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Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 


A Study in African Resistance 



1 896—7 

A Study in African Resistance 





Vuctona, B C. 


T. O. Ranger 

Professor of History , 
University College , 
Dar es Salaam 

Heinemann Educational Books Ltd 


© T. O. Ranger 1967 
First Published 1967 

Published by 

Heinemann Educational Books Ltd 
48 Charles Street, London, W. 1 
Printed in Great Britain by 
Butler and Tanner Ltd, Frome and London 

To the memory of Sketchley 



Preface ix 

1. The Shona and Ndebele Past i 

2. Administration in Mashonaland, 1890-6 46 

3. Administration in Matabeleland, 1893-6 89 

4. The Outbreak and Organization of the Rebellion in 

Matabeleland 1 2 7 

5. The Relief of Bulawayo and the ‘Shooting of the 

Mlimo’ 163 

6. The Outbreak and Organization of the Rebellion in 

Mashonaland 1 9 1 

7. War and Peace in Matabeleland, June to December 

1896 227 

8. The Suppression of the Shona Rising 268 

9. The Aftermath of the Rising: White Attitudes and 

White Power 3 1 1 

10. The Risings in African Political History 345 

A Note on Sources 387 

Appendix: Oral Traditions of the Rising in the Mazoe 
District of Mashonaland 390 

Index 395 


List of Plates 



I The British South Africa Company arrives in 

Mashonaland 1 1 6 

II A Company view of an Ndebele raid upon the Shona 1 1 7 

III (a) The British South Africa Company arrives in 

(b) The Headquarters staff during the defence of 
Bulawayo 1 48 

IV The pursuit of Burnham and Armstrong by an 

Ndebele impi 149 

V (a) A Shona attack on the Mail Coach from Gwelo 

(b) The Mangwe indaba 212 

VI The storming of Taba Zi Ka Mambo 213 

VII White attacks on African food supplies 244 

VIII White Rhodesian reactions to Rhodes’ negotiations 

with the Ndebele 245 

IX Ndebele leaders in Bulawayo 340 

X A cartoon comment on the fate of the Ndebele and 

Shona 341 

XI The Kagubi medium under guard 372 

XII The Nehanda and Kagubi mediums awaiting 

execution 373 

List of Maps 


1. The Provinces of the Mwene Mutapa Confederacy 43 

2. The Rozwi Confederacy at the height of its power 44 

3. Approximate areas of Ndebele settlement and raiding 43 

4. Matabeleland in 1896 126 

5. Mashonaland in 1896-7 162 



In his account of the Ndebcle and Shona resistance to the im- 
position of colonial rule in Southern Rhodesia the Russian scholar, 
Professor A. B. Davidson expressed the hope that the next contri- 
bution made to the study of the subject would be from African 
historians using oral sources. This book is not, unhappily, a 
fulfilment of this hope. I am not an African historian and remain 
excluded from many of the insights into Ndebele and Shona society 
which are needed for a truly balanced account of the meeting of 
black and white in Southern Rhodesia. Nor have I been able to 
make extensive use of oral sources. In Southern Rhodesia in the 
early 1960s, when I was working on this book, old men were still 
reluctant to talk to strangers, black or white, about their part in 
the risings of seventy years ago; moreover I was myself barred from 
entering the African rural areas where much of the information is 
to be found. In these circumstances I have collected and used only 
enough oral material to be convinced of its value. The reminisc- 
ences of the descendants of ‘Mapondera’, leader of the north- 
eastern rising of 1900, have a solidity and relevance which has 
convinced me of the importance of seeking out in the same way 
the families of other rebel leaders; the Rozwi tradition which was 
collected for me by Mr Solomon Nengubo enabled me to make 
sense of an important but obscure episode, the attempt at the end 
of 1896 to revive the Rozwi empire. With Professor Davidson I 
look forward to the day when a comprehensive deployment of 
such evidence will revolutionize our vision of the risings and their 
significance. 1 

Meanwhile what justification is there for another lengthy account 
of the risings? Professor Davidson was obliged to use the abundant 
secondary material available — official inquiries, press reports, the 
reminiscences of white participants, later secondary studies. I 
have been fortunate to enjoy access to the very large archival 

1 A. B. Davidson, Matabele i Mashona v Bor'be Protiv Angliyskoy Kolonizatsii , 
i888-i8gy, Moscow 1958 . 




collection in the National Archives, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. 
And it is upon these extensive manuscript sources that this book 
is based. A description of them will be found in a note at the end 
of this book, but one thing must be said here. Extensive though 
these sources are, they are in many ways obviously unsatisfactory. 
For one thing, the material which is genuinely illuminating about 
African society and its participation in the risings is scattered 
amongst a great mass of material which is not concerned with, or 
if concerned with not perceptive about, Africans at all. Even in the 
files dealing with the risings by far the greater bulk of the material 
is concerned with such matters as the supply of boots to the police 
and army; the fortifications of the Salisbury or Bulawayo laager; 
letters of condolence to bereaved relatives. But a much more 
serious problem is the inevitably suspect nature of those documents 
which do relate to the African side of the fighting. It will be one 
of my arguments, for example, that official beliefs about African 
society were mostly ill founded and yet I am dependent upon 
material produced by these officials for my own reconstruction. 
Moreover a good deal of the evidence comes, as one would expect, 
from spies, or from prisoners under interrogation, or from evidence 
given in preliminary examinations into charges of murder. Given 
the problems of language and given the pressures to which all these 
informants were exposed, it is plain that the material needs to be 
used with very great care. 

These are problems, however, which are by no means insuper- 
able, nor are they peculiar to African history. Those scholars who 
have made brilliant reconstructions of the role of the mob in the 
French revolution or of inarticulate peasant movements in south- 
ern Europe have necessarily had to rely also upon the police files, 
and their example demonstrates what can be gleaned from such 
sources. I have become convinced in relation to my own material 
that at least there was no deliberate, centrally directed attempt to 
falsify or to produce a particular picture for public consumption. 
The trials of rebels in Southern Rhodesia were not show trials in 
that sense, and so far from anybody being in a position to manipu- 
late them to produce a certain result nobody at the time pulled 
together the evidence given in them to produce a coherent picture 
of any kind. There is, of course, the distortion of ignorance and the 
distortion of prejudice; sometimes, as we shall see, the distortion 
of self-glorification. No doubt the oral material when it is available 



will suffer from the same sort of distortions and have to be used 
with the same care. 

The character of most of my evidence, however, has made me 
more than ever reliant on the insights into Ndebele and Shona 
history and society which have been provided by other scholars, 
by anthropologists and oral historians, archaeologists and archival 
historians. This book has derived more than usual from the work of 
colleagues in Salisbury; from Mr Donald Abraham’s work on the 
oral traditional history of the Shona; from Mr Richard Brown’s work 
on Ndebele history in the nineteenth century; from Dr Kingsley- 
Garbett’s work on the spirit mediums of contemporary Mashona- 
land; from Professor George Fortunes’ work on Shona language 
and literature and his interest in the Mwari cult; from Mr Nathan 
Shamuyarira’s knowledge of twentieth-century African political 
history in Southern Rhodesia; above all from the encouragement 
and stimulation of Dr Eric Stokes. It has also derived a very great 
deal from the interest of my students in Salisbury, some of whom 
worked on oral and others on archival material on my behalf, who 
explored with me the caves where chief Makoni made his last 
stand in August 1896 and who challenged in argument my first 
interpretations. I am especially grateful to Miss Rachel Thomson 
and Mrs Marylee Wiley for assistance in the Archives and to Mr 
Solomon Nengubo for oral research. Mr Aeneas Chigwedere is now 
embarking on research of his own into aspects of the risings in 
Mashonaland which is to be hoped will realize the expectations 
of Professor Davidson. 

In this combination of archival research and the insights of 
other students of African society in Southern Rhodesia lies the 
justification for a new study of the Ndebele and Shona risings. 
The significance of such a study, if it does succeed in throwing new 
light, is not confined, I think, to Southern Rhodesian history alone, 
crucial though the risings were to the development of that history. 
There is today a very widespread interest in the so-called ‘primary 
resistances’ to European rule in Africa and a lively historical 
debate about their significance; their links with the pre-colonial 
past; and their links with later nationalist politics. We may expect 
in the near future the publication of a number of studies dealing 
with particular manifestations of resistance — the Zulu rebellion and 
the Maji-Maji rising in Tanganyika, for instance; of generalizing 
articles; and of symposia pulling together material on a whole 



variety of resistances. It is in the context of this interest that this 
book is written. The Ndebele and Shona risings were in some ways 
the most spectacular manifestation of resistance in East and 
Central Africa, and for this reason information about them is 
significant to the study of the phenomenon as a whole. In this 
respect I should acknowledge the debt I owe to my colleagues in 
the University College, Dar es Salaam, at which this book has 
been written. Through my discussions with Dr John Lonsdale, who 
has worked on resistances in Kenya, with Dr John Iliffe, who is 
now making a full-scale study of the Maji-Maji rising in Tan- 
zania, and with Dr John McCracken, who is concerned with the 
similar period in the history of Malawi, I have been able to see my 
own study in a wider and more valuable context. 

There is one final debt to acknowledge. This project was con- 
ceived in affection and admiration for the African people of 
Southern Rhodesia. My interest in it was stimulated by my friend- 
ship with more people than it is possible to name. Some of them, 
however, must be mentioned. I owe much to Ndabaningi Sithole 
and Stanlake Samkange, themselves historians and interpreters of 
their country’s past: to George Nyandoro, descendant of one of the 
most formidable Shona leaders of 1896-7; to Herbert Chitepo, 
whose poem on the end of the old order in Manyika is a valuable 
way into the late nineteenth-century history of eastern Mashona- 
land; to Mrs Mwendapole, proud descendant of ‘Mapondera’ who 
collected and made available to me her family memories of that 
rebel leader; to Basil Nyabadza and Eric Magwasa who were my 
guides to Gwindingwi caves and to the history of the Makoni area; 
to Mr Chifamba, who introduced me to the old songs of the risings 
which came back into nationalist politics in the 1960s; and to 
many more. To them, through its dedication to Sketchley Sam- 
kange, my dear friend and introducer to African life, who died 
before the unhappy division in the nationalist movement and who 
symbolizes to me its essential unity, I dedicate this book. 

Dar es Salaam, June 1966 



The Shona and Ndebele Past 

In march 1896 throughout the greater part of the province of 
Matabeleland whites living outside the towns were suddenly 
attacked and killed; in June 1896 similar attacks were made with 
equal suddenness over large areas of the province of Mashonaland. 
These attacks took the British South Africa Company administra- 
tion, which had been governing Mashonaland since 1890 and 
Matabeleland since 1893, completely by surprise. When the Acting 
Chief Native Commissioner, Matabeleland, was asked for his 
opinion in March 1896 about the causes of the Ndebele rising, he 
answered with a frank admission of incomprehension. ‘This out- 
break was got up as a matter of fact so quickly’, he wrote, ‘and in 
opposition to all our native lore, that we feel almost unable to 
venture any further opinion on natives at all; except this — that 
they are not for one moment to be trusted.’ When the western and 
central Shona rose there was an even greater incredulity. ‘I may 
remark’, wrote Marshall Hole, the Resident Magistrate of Salis- 
bury, ‘that this sudden departure on the part of the Mashona 
tribes has caused the greatest surprise to those who from long 
residence in the country thought they understood the character 
of these savages and to none more than to the Native Commission- 
ers themselves. . . . With true kaffir deceit they have beguiled us 
into the idea that they were content with our administration of the 
country and wanted nothing more than to work for us and trade 
with us and become civilized; but at a given signal they have cast 
aside all pretence and simultaneously set in motion the whole of 
the machinery which they have been preparing.’ 1 

This white unreadiness gave the rebels their opportunity to 
launch a sudden and co-ordinated attack. But more than this — 
in the willingness of Marshall Hole and others to be ‘beguiled into 
the idea that they were content with our administration’ there was 
contained a profound misunderstanding of the reaction of the 

1 Acting C.N.C. to Acting Administrator, 30 Mar. 1896, A 10/1/1; report 
by Marshall Hole, 29 Oct. 1896, A 1/12/36. 



African peoples of Southern Rhodesia to colonial rule, a misunder- 
standing which was at the root of the tensions between white and 
black. This misunderstanding arose, as some of the Native Com- 
missioners came to see later, partly out of white ignorance of the 
history of the Shona and the Ndebele and of the continuing signifi- 
cance of the pre-colonial past to these peoples. ‘We had under- 
rated the Mashonas,’ confessed ‘Wiri’ Edwards, the first Native 
Commissioner of Mrewa in central Mashonaland. ‘We knew 
nothing of their past history, who they were or where they came 
from, and although many of the Native Commissioners had a 
working knowledge of their language, none of us really understood 
the people or could follow their line of thought. We were inclined 
to look down on them as a downtrodden race who were grateful 
to the white man for protection.’ 1 

Whites believed that the Shona peoples would not rebel because ] 
they believed that the Shona had no roots, no sense of history; no \ 
sense of religion, the feeblest of political institutions — in short, no 1 
way of life worth fighting and dying for. Whites believed that the 
Ndebele would not rebel because they believed that Ndebele i 
society, no matter how centralized and effective it had been in 
the past, had also been so arbitrary and oppressive that it had been 
abhorrent to most of those involved in it. Whites believed that the 
Shona welcomed Company rule as a protection against the 
Ndebele; and that the mass of the Ndebele welcomed Company 
rule as a protection against their own institutions. They were wrong 
in all these beliefs, of course, vastly under-estimating the attach- _ 
ment of the Shona peoples to their traditional institutions and the 
continuing prestige of the Ndebele system. In order to understand 
the risings we must first seek to correct these errors and to look at 
the African past of Southern Rhodesia as it is beginning to emerge 
from the work of modern scholars. 

The view held by whites of Shona society in the 1890s can best 
be amplified by extracts from contemporary comments. The 
Shona were held to be relatively recent arrivals in Rhodesia, only 
shallowly rooted there and with no effective memory of their pre- 
vious history. ‘Either owing to the intense stupidity of the Mashona 
or his knowing nothing’, wrote the Native Commissioner, Salisbury, 
in January 1896, ‘I have been able to discover very little of his 
origin or history. . . . Unlike the Zulus the Mashonas have no 
1 Reminiscences of ‘Wiri’ Edwards, ED 6/1 /i. 





folk lore and are content to enjoy today and think nothing of 
yesterday, or tomorrow either for that matter. ... I do not think 
it is much more than ioo years since this country was first occupied 
or invaded by Mashonas.’ Shona chiefs were credited with almost 
no power. ‘There is no such thing as a chief in my area,’ wrote the 
Native Commissioner, Hartley, in December 1895 from the kraal 
of paramount chief Mashiangombi, who was to become the main 
leader of the rising in western Mashonaland. ‘Those who are called 
chiefs have not the slightest authority; they are defied even in their 
own kraals.’ 1 

Nor did whites think that the Shona had any sense of religion or 
possessed any religious organization. ‘Among the Mashonas there 
are only very faint traces of religion,’ wrote the Jesuit missionary, 
Father Hartmann, in 1894. ‘They have hardly any idea of a 
supreme being. . . . The Mashonas are united as a common wealth 
by nothing except the unity of their language.’ So far did the 
Jesuit fathers at Chishawasha believe the Shona to be from re- 
ligious maturity that they thought it necessary first to instruct them 
in ‘natural religion’ before broaching the great truths of Christi- 
anity. 2 

The reaction of settlers, missionaries and administrators alike 
to these unfortunate people was one of contempt and dislike. A 
Bulawayo diarist summed up general white attitudes when he 
noted in June 1896: ‘No one likes the Mashonas, dirty, cowardly! 
lot. Matabele bloodthirsty devils but a fine type.’ ‘Father Biehler j 
is so convinced of the hopelessness of regenerating the Mashonas,’ 
wrote Lord Grey from Chishawasha in January 1897, ‘whom he 
regards as the most hopeless of mankind . . . that he states that the 
only chance for the future of the race is to exterminate the whole 
people, both male and female, over the age of 14! This pessimistic 
conclusion’, Grey continued, ‘I find it hard to accept.’ But even 
he could find nothing more to say for the Shona than that they had 
‘been governed and controlled entirely through the influence of 
fear — they have the habits of a whipped cur and not infrequently 
bite through terror the hand outstretched to help them’. 3 

1 Monthly report, Salisbury, Jan. 1896, N 1/1/9; half yearly report, Hartley, 
Dec. 1895, N 1/1/3. 

2 Reports on the Administration of Rhodesia, 1892-4, p. 82. 

3 Grey to Lady Grey, 23 Jan. 1 897, GR 1 /i /i ; diary of F. R. de Bertodano, 
entry for 21 June 1896, BE 3/2. 



White views were well summed up by Marshall Hole. ‘The 
Mashona race has always been regarded as composed of disinte- 
grating groups of natives, having no common organization and 
owing allegiance to no single authority, cowed by a series of raids 
from Matabeleland into a condition of abject pusillanimity and 
incapable of planning any combined or pre-meditated action.’ 1 

That something was wrong with these views was made abund- 
antly clear by the ‘combined’ and ‘pre-meditated’ action of the 
Shona rising itself. In fact almost everything was wrong with them. 
We do not know a very great deal about Shona history even now, 
but certain things have become clear. Among the mixed peoples 
who spoke dialects of Shona in the 1890s there were many who had 
been resident in much the same area for centuries and who had a 
well preserved and institutionalized memory of their history. The 
Shona linguistic area had been the scene of at least two remarkable 
attempts at political centralization— the confederacies of the 
Mutapas and of the Rozwi Mambos. The authority of the para- 
mount chiefs had survived the collapse of these confederacies in 
most of Mashonaland. The Shona peoples had evolved, moreover, 
two remarkable and developed religious systems which were 
widely influential in the 1890s, And, finally, the effect of Ndebele 
raids upon the Shona of Mashonaland has been much exaggerated. 

We must look at these points in more detail. Two things need 
to be made clear first, however. The word Shona does not carry 
with it any precise tribal or ethnic connotation^ nor does it relate 
only to the peoples who lived in the area now known as Mashona- 
land. It is a^linguistic term used to describe a group of dialects 
spoken throughout what is now Southern Rhodesia and in parts of 
adjacent territories^These dialects — Kalanga, Karanga, Zezuru, 
Korekore, Manyika; Ndau — do not have precise ethnic connota- 
tions either. Thus when we speak of the Shona people we mean all 
those who spoke dialects of Shona over this wide area; when we 
talk of the Zezuru peoples we mean those who spoke the Zezuru 
dialect and who lived in a particular district of the Shona liguistic 
area. So defined, Shona peoples were involved in the so-called 
Ndebele rising in the province of Matabeleland, as well as in the 
so-called Shona rising in the province of Mashonaland, and what 
is said below about Shona history is relevant, therefore, to the 
risings in both provinces. We may as well note here, indeed, that 

1 Marshall Hole, op. cit. 



the names Matabeleland and Mashonaland are thoroughly mis- 
leading; the political division which they imply did not exist be- 
fore the nineteenth century; the Ndebele did not live throughout , 
Matabeland but only in a central district of it, and the Shona lived / 
in wide areas outside Mashonaland. 1 

‘There appears to be a sufficiently marked cultural as well as 
linguistic uniformity’ among the Shona peoples, so Dr Kuper tells 
us, ‘to distinguish them from the neighbouring Nguni and Sotho 
of Southern Africa as well as from Bantu tribes north of the 
Zambesi’. But if there is a Shona culture, a way of life, it has 
emerged from a most complex series of conquests, assimilations and 
movements of peoples. ‘Historically’, writes Father Devlin, ‘the 
Mashona have been formed by a criss-cross dove-tailing of bits of 
tribes who broke apart and then came together again centuries 
later, each part bringing new blood with it. Their myth and ritual 
is much concerned with the assimilation of invaders by earlier 
inhabitants.’ This complex history has provided, as we shall see, 
a sort of common environment for large numbers of Shona-speaking 
peoples over large areas for considerable periods of time, which 
makes it improper to speak of a ‘Shona past’ or a ‘Shona way of 
life’. But we should emphasize here that in the 1890s, as today, 
there was still a great variety of practice and belief among the 
speakers of Shona and that we must make the same apology as Dr 
Kuper in her ethnographic survey of the Shona: ‘Inevitably in a 
brief survey such as this details and variations of custom are omit- 
ted, and a more uniform picture is presented than actually 
occurred.’ 2 

In looking at Shona history thus generally it will be best to 
begin with the two centralizing experiments which brought to- 
gether under one hegemony the majority of the Shona-speaking 
peoples. ‘The Mashonas were not a war-like people’, wrote one of 
the Native Commissioners of the 1890s. ‘They were not a nation 
under one supreme head as were the Matabele. They were a 
multitude of different tribes or clans, each with its own paramount 
chief and territorial boundaries. . . . There may once have been a 

1 The only recent general survey of the Shona is Hilda Kuper, ‘The Shona’, 
in H. Kuper, A. J. B. Hughes and J. Van Velsen, The Shona and Ndebele of 
Southern Rhodesia, London, 1955. 

2 Kuper, op. cit. C. Devlin, ‘The Mashona and the Portuguese’ and ‘The 
Mashona and the British’, in The Shield, May and June 1961. 



Kingdom of Monomatapa, but I hae ma doots.’ Such caution was 
reasonable in the 1890s when the Mwene Mutapa confederation 
was still shrouded in myth of both African and European making. 
Today, however, as the result of work done on relevant Portuguese 
documents, on newly available oral tradition, and on archaeo- 
logical remains, we can say that there certainly was a kingdom of 
Mwene Mutapa; that it developed into an ‘empire’ or ‘confederacy’ 
covering most of what later became Mashonaland and a great 
area of Portuguese East Africa; that it was one of the most 
successful African Iron Age states; and that it was created by 
and largely ruled over Shona-speaking peoples. 1 

The Mwene Mutapa dynasty was established in the country to 
the south of the Zambesi, in what is now north-east Mashonaland, 
as the result of the conquest of the Tavara tribes of that area by 
Shona speakers from the south — the so-called Korekore — in the 
fifteenth century. These Shona conquerors came from an area 
already in trading contact with the outside world and developing 
political and technological sophistication. Well placed to make 
contact with the long-established trade of the coast, their new 
kingdom expanded, made conquests, and was imitated until it 
became the centre of a widely spread and elaborate system with 
which the Portuguese soon came into contact in the sixteenth 
century. From their accounts of it, it was clearly a state system, 
of considerable sophistication. The kingdom of Mwene Mutapa, 
writes Mr Gann in the most recent account of it, turned into ‘an 
empire over many other tribes, who were allowed to keep their 
own chiefs but were obliged to forward tribute. In exchange the 
king’s subjects received protection from their enemies, as well as 
gifts; the royal court perhaps acted as the centre of a vast system of 
tributary exchange which functioned without money. . . . The 
Monomotapas in time managed to build up a great tribal con- 
federacy. Hoe-cultivation and small-scale industries like weaving, 
gold-mining, pottery and the production of ironware built up a 

1 Reminiscences of ‘Wiri’ Edwards, ED 6/1 / 1 . The most recent account of 
research is, B. M. Fagan, Southern Africa, London, 1965. Fagan writes of a 
‘Shona empire’ based on Great Zimbabwe and dating from the thirteenth or 
fourteenth century for the history of which ‘we must rely almost wholly on 
archaeological evidence’. The assumption here is that the newcomers who 
introduced technological and political techniques also introduced the Shona 
language which then became the language of both themselves and the older 



surplus; trade in luxury goods enhanced the country’s wealth. As 
time went on, powerful men could afford richer clothes, finer 
ornaments and better weapons than their followers. . . . The king 
himself used great nobles in his household which formed the nucleus 
of a rudimentary state organization. He also received asssistance 
from a body of tribal intellectuals, part royal spirit mediums and 
part official historians, who were supposed to voice the will of 
ancestral kings, and maintain the traditions of their race. There 
was too a host of office bearers, described by a Portuguese chroni- 
cler of the sixteenth century as the governor of the kingdoms, the 
captain-general, the chief major-domo, the chief musician, the 
captain-general of the vanguard in wartime, the king’s right hand, 
the chief wizard, the king’s doorkeeper, ‘and numerous other 
officers of lower rank whom it would be unending and tedious to 
enumerate’. All these dignitaries held land and vassals, but they 
resided at the King’s court. . . . Local government remained in 
the hands of minor chiefs and headmen.’ 1 

The Mutapa’s power was partly economic, partly spiritual — 
‘everything points’, so Fagan tells us, ‘to the power of the Shona 
and Rozwi chiefs having been based on their intermediary powers 
or on their control of the powerful mhondoro (tribal spirits), upon 
whose messages to Mwari depended the fortune of the community’. 
The Mutapa was surrounded by ritual and prohibitions; the dead 
Mutapas were honoured at the great royal graves, tended by their 
own posthumous court. And the rites which surrounded the 
Mutapa were emulated by the rulers of the provinces or the 
principalities of his ‘empire’. 

For some time, then, the Mutapa’s court, within its stone- 
walled stockade ‘in the somewhat eerie escarpment country, where 
ghostly white “fever trees” and grotesque baobabs grow among 
the mopane\ was the focus of the economic, administrative and 
spiritual life of very many of the Shona-speaking peoples. There 
congregated Arab or Swahili traders from the coast, messengers 
from the provinces, ‘the sons of the nobles of his kingdom’ picking 
up an education by serving as pages, soldiers and their commanders. 
But the system, impressive and effective in its day, had many 

1 L. H. Gann, A History of Southern Rhodesia, London, 1965, pp. 9-10. See 
also D. P. Abraham, ‘The early political history of the Kingdom of Mwene 
Mutapa (850-1589)’ in Historians in Tropical Africa, Salisbury, 1962, and ‘The 
Monomatapa dynasty’ in Native Affairs Department Annual, No. 36, 1959. 



weaknesses and these were soon revealed by the pressure put on the 
Mutapas by the Portuguese. The Mutapas were caught between 
Portuguese demands and the resistance to these of their vassals; 
if they accommodated themselves to the Portuguese they faced 
rebellion; if they accommodated themselves to the demands of 
most of their subjects and attempted to exclude Portuguese influ- 
ence they faced the military strength of this early colonial power. 
Soon their system began to fall apart. Tn the seventeenth century, 
writes Professor Oliver, ‘the Monomotapas became Portuguese 
puppets, and their outlying provinces hived away from their alle- 
giance. By the eighteenth century there was little trace of their 
former empire, by the nineteenth, none.’ 1 

Yet even in the late nineteenth century the fact of the existence 
of the Mutapa empire was still of some significance. The religious 
system with which it has been closely associated was still influential, 
as we shall see, and the spirits of dead Mutapas continued to com- 
mand respect even when the live titular Mutapa was reduced ‘to 
provincial status in Thawara country west of Tete’. And under the 
pressures of the new colonial incursion in the 1890s even the titular 
Mutapa was able to serve as the focus for considerable movement 
of resistance throughout the nuclear area of the old empire and its 
eastern provinces. The then Mutapa claimant was one Chioco 
Dambamutupe and his influence was treated with more respect by 
the Rhodesian authorities than that of a mere provincial Tavara 
chief even if with less respect than that of an emperor. ‘Choko, a 
powerful chief in Portuguese territory, was at the head of the whole 
affair’, wrote the Native Commissioner, Mrewa, in 1898 when there 
was a movement of unrest in the Rhodesian Korekore and Tavara 
areas. ‘Before the occupation of the country by the British South 
Africa Company, Choko’ s country came right down to the border 
of Maramba in this district and in fact until quite lately the natives 
Mn Fungwi paid tribute to him. ... As far as I can make out he was 
chief of the Korekori and for years he has given the Portuguese a 
lot of trouble and they have been too weak to tackle him.’ A month 
or so later Colonel Leverson, who was at work delimiting the 
Rhodesian-Portuguese boundary, ran into Chioco’s hostility. ‘The 
natives about here stand in great awe’ of Chioco, wrote Leverson, 
‘some well-informed people telling me that his territory extended 
as far south as the Mazoe and into the British sphere of influence’. 

1 R. Oliver, ‘Exploring the History of Africa’, Encounter, Mar. 1963. 



And in May 1901, when this unrest had broken out into open 
violence, the Rhodesian administration went so far as to send a 
secret emissary into the territory of their Portuguese colonial col- 
leagues in order to try to persuade Chioco to use his influence to 
end the disturbances. 1 

Even the idea of the power of the Mutapa was not, then, a 
completely dead concept in the 1890s. But much more vital and 
important was the memory of the second of the great Shona central- 
izing experiments — the empire of the Rozwi Mambos. The Rozwr 
confederacy came to an end only in the 1830s; it was still fresh in 
the memory of old men in the 1890s; and, as we shall see, its legacy 
played an important part in the risings of 1896-7, which broke 
out largely in those areas where the Rozwi supremacy had been 
effective. The origins of the Rozwi state system date back to thej 
fifteenth century and for a time it co-existed with the Mutapa 
confederacy with which it had many and complex inter-relation- 
ships. But its real period of power and prosperity came in the 
second half of the seventeenth and the eighteenth century, when 
it wrested control of external trade from the declining Mutapas 
and emerged as the only strong state in the Shona speaking area. 

" The Rozwi confederacy was based in what later became Matabele- 
land and western Mashonaland, where was located its capital, the 
' great assemblage of stone enclosures and walls now known as 
I Great Zimbabwe. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth century 
Rozwi authority was recognized also by the central and eastern 
Shona peoples, but it did not extend to Korekore or Tavara 
country, the old heartland of the Mutapa kingdom. 

A state based on much the same principles of organization as 
the Mutapa kingdom, its achievements in its period of power out- 
shone those of its predecessor. Where the Mutapas had been under- 
mined by the Portuguese, the Rozwi Changamire dynasty drove 
them out of what is now Southern Rhodesia. The Rowzi brought 
the tradition of stone building to a high degree of elaboration, 
building the most impressive structures at Great Zimbabwe and 
further royal residences at Khami, Dhlo-Dhlo, Naletale and the 
rest. The achievements symbolized by those buildings were con- 
siderable. A developed economic system, a stable political regime, a 

1 Edwards to C.N.C., 1 Aug. 1898, NSI 1/1/1; Leverson to Secretary, 
Administrator, 15 Oct. 1898, Colonial Office, Confidential Prints, Southern 
Africa, No. 574, pp. 130-2; Gilson to Flint, 22 Apr. 1901, A 11/2/12/13. 


complex administrative hierarchy — all these were thought by white 
"Rhodesians in the 1890s to be unthinkably beyond the capabili- 
1 ties of black Rhodesians, so that the stone ruins were ascribed to a 
I long vanished race of white colonizers. Our knowledge that these 
achievements were essentially Shona ones and that the society 
which created them was enjoying what Basil Davidson calls £ a 
time of comfortable and slow peace’ not much more than fifty 
years before the risings, necessarily puts the Shona peoples in a 
different context for us than that in which they were seen in the 
1890s. 1 

In this period of peace Zimbabwe enjoyed, so its excavator 
Mr Roger Summers tells us after a cautious examination of the 
evidence, ‘so advanced a culture that it was virtually a city’. ‘The 
Rozwi monarchs’, he suggests, ‘organized their production and 
managed their exports for their own personal profit as capably as 
the nineteenth-century Randlords. One may venture to guess, 
from the poor material culture of the mining villages and the 
frequency of traces of mining accidents, that the mine-girls of pre- 
history got no more share in their chief’s profits than the modern 
mine-worker does today.’ Mr Summers is no doubt right to remind 
us that the ‘complex social organization, which clustered around 
Zimbabwe’, its prosperity and its rich material culture, were the 
fruits of a system conducted in the interests of the few and super- 
imposed on the way of life of the many. But during the high 
period of the Rozwi peace there seems no reason to doubt that its 
benefits were widespread. The famous hunter, F. C. Selous, writing 
in 1893 the paramountcies of central Mashonaland, drew a 
picture of the country as it must have been ‘some fifty years ago’. 
‘The peaceful people inhabiting this part of Africa must then have 
been at the zenith of their prosperity. Herds of their small but 
beautiful cattle lowed in every valley and their rich and fertile 
country doubtless afforded them an abundance of vegetable food.’ 
The Shona paramounts were then ‘rulers of large and prosperous 
tribes . . . whose towns were for the most part surrounded by well 
built and loop-holed stonewalls . . . Hundreds of thousands of acres 
which now lie fallow must then have been under cultivation . . . 
while the sites of ancient villages are very numerous all over the 

1 See R. Summers, Zimbabwe, A Rhodesian Mystery, Cape Town, 1963; 
K. R. Robinson, ‘The archaeology of the Rozwi’, in The Zjambesian Past, eds. 
E. T. Stokes and R. Brown, Manchester, 1966. 


I I 

open downs.’ This picture of Shona peace and prosperity may 
possibly have been overdrawn by Selous for the sake of the con- 
trast with the disturbances which followed, but it is probably sub- 
stantially true. 1 

At any rate in the 1830s the time of peace came to an end and 
the Shona time of troubles began. Among the Nguni-speaking 
peoples to the south who had hitherto not been politically central- 
ized a great upheaval had been taking place in the first decades of 
the nineteenth century. This upheaval had produced the Zulu 
state which was organized on a military principle very different 
from the system of the Mutapas or the Rozwi. It had also produced 
a number of splinter groups from the Zulu state or fugitive groups 
from the surrounding peoples who now made use of the new 
military tactics and weapons of the Zulu to push into the older" 
areas of political centralization and to conquer and subdue their 
peoples. The first such invasion of the Rozwi area came in 1830 or 
1831 when the so-called Ngoni under the leadership of Zwangen- 
daba broke into the territory of the confederation, looting and 
destroying as they went. The zimbabwes of the Rozwi Mambos 
were fired and ransacked and the reigning Mambo himself killed. 
In 1898 one of the first Native Commissioners took down from an 
old survivor of Zwangendaba’s impi his memories of this invasion. 
‘Of all the countries we passed through,’ the old man recalled, 
‘there was one which struck us as most desirable. This was the 
country in which a people called the Abalozwi lived. They built 
their villages in granite hills which they fortified with stone walls. 
Their chief, Mambo, put up a stubborn fight and then fled into the 
very hilly granite country, making it difficult for us to subdue him 
and his people.’ Zwangendaba and his men laid siege to the last 
stronghold of the Mambo, the hill of Taba Zi Ka Mambo which 
was to play so significant a part in 1896. ‘They threw down beads 
and skins and hoes and offered us cattle and sheep to go away and 
leave them in peace . . . but we were not to be propitiated . . . 
Next day they came out again on the rocks and directed us to 
stand below a certain strange overhanging rock. It looked like a 
big balcony giving standing room to about 200 men. Hereon were 

1 F. C. Selous, Travel and adventure in South East Africa, London, 1893; 
R. Summers, ‘Was Zimbabwe civilized?’ and ‘Notes on the economic bases of 
the Rhodesian Iron Age cultures’, in Conference of the History of the Central African 
Peoples, Lusaka, 1963. 


gathered the Mambo and his counsellors, jabbering and chattering 
like a lot of monkeys. This rock stands about a hundred feet above 
where we were standing with a sheer drop, and it is here that 
Mambo threw himself down in our midst to fall dead and mangled 
at our feet . . . The next day we found that these people had deserted 
that part of the country during the night and as we wished to 
continue our trek northward we packed up and took up the trail 
leaving Mambo’s mangled remains where he had fallen and named 
the hills the Intaba zi ka Mambo, by which name they are known 
even unto the present day.’ That vision of the last Mambo and his 
counsellors ‘jabbering and chattering like a lot of monkeys’ is 
eloquent of the contempt with which the military Nguni peoples 
from the south — Ngoni and Ndebele alike — regarded the very 
different institutions of Rozwi and Shona monarchy. 1 

Zwangendaba passed on but the Ndebele of Mzilikazi were hot 
on his heels, also in flight from the upheavals of the south, and 
attempts to revive the Rozwi empire were crushed by Ndebele 
might. Instead there developed the military state of the Ndebele 
which is described below. The Rozwi aristocracy scattered, some 
to the north, others seeking refuge among the peoples of western 
and central Mashonaland. By the 1890s it was difficult to find any 
material traces of the old Rozwi system, always excepting the now 
ruined and deserted zimbabwes. ‘How many people,’ asked an early 
Native Commissioner, ‘know who the Rozwi are, or where they 
live and what influence they exert in the land over which they 
once ruled supreme?’ 2 

The Rozwi did undoubtedly continue to exert influence into the 
1890s and an influence which was of not inconsiderable import- 
ance in 1896. The memory of Rozwi dominance was still vivid 
among the Shona peoples in the 1890s. A court case of 1897 brings 
this out well. In that year one Manyanga was being tried for 
extortion and sedition. A Karanga witness from the Fort Victoria 
district explained that he had paid the tribute demanded by the 
accused because he was ‘a MuRozi belonging to the BaRosi 
country. The BaRosi’s are the big people of the country. We are 
afraid of the BaRosi because they sometimes attack us with an 
impi like the Matabele and kill us’. Clearly the memory of Rozwi 
supremacy did not seem impossibly remote in the 1890s. Native 

1 Citsha’s story, WE 3/2/6. 

2 Notes by Native Commissioner Weale, ibid. 


Commissioners in Mashonaland, charged in 1895 with the duty of 
recording information on the history of the Shona, reported that 
all they could gather were stories about the Rozwi and their alleg- 
edly supernatural powers. Moreover, some of the Rozwi aristoc- 
racy continued to exercise a considerable direct influence, living 
scattered amongst the peoples of western and central Mashonaland 
but often standing in a relationship of ritual superiority to their 
chiefs. 1 

These, then, were the two great attempts to superimpose a 
central authority over the complexity of Shona society. Both had 
been broken by the 1890s. What remained were the provincial 
units, the paramountcies or the principalities, to use Mr Abraham’s 
terminology. The paramountcies of western and central Mashona- 
land, which were the essential political units of the late nineteenth 
century and which were so heavily involved in the risings of 1 896-7, 
were thought at that time to be of very recent origin. Certainly 
there had been many movements of people within Mashonaland 
during the nineteenth century and no doubt the boundaries of the 
paramountcies and still more the composition of their populations 
had undergone change. Nevertheless it is possible to trace the 
history of some of these units continuously from the sixteenth or 
seventeenth centuries and to find the titles of their rulers occurring 
regularly in Portuguese sources as advisers or provincial or tribu- 
tary kings of the Mutapa. Some of them no doubt pre-dated the 
rise of the Mutapa confederacy, becoming provinces of that empire 
and then of the Rozwi empire in turn, and surviving the downfall 
of both to regain independent status in the nineteenth century. 
Others were founded during the Mutapa period by the outward 
thrust of groups of Shona or Korekore aristocrats from the Mutapa 
kingdom which proceeded to conquer a new area and to introduce 
into it, on a reduced scale, the institutions of the parent state. This 
happened, for instance, with the paramountcy of Barwe which in 
the 1890s still functioned as a political unit under its paramount, 
the Makombe, and which was established by a Korekore con- 
quest in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. Others yet 
again were founded by the intrusion into the area of powerful 
groups who set up their own little conquest states on the model 
of the Mutapa dependencies or who took over already existing 
entities. The paramountcy of Maungwe under the Makoni was 
1 Evidence of Umqueba, Oct. 1897, HC/M, No. 306. 


established by such an invasion; the Mutassa dynasty took over the 
old ‘principality’ of Manyika by such an intrusion. 1 

Once established they became the essential units of Shona politi- 
cal life. Barwe, Maungwe, Manyika, Mbire under chief Soswe, 
Nohwe under chief Mangwende, Boca under chief Marange, Budja 
under chief Mtoko— over the centuries these paramountcies pur- 
sued a complex course of rivalry and alliance, of war and trade 
with each other, with the Portuguese and with any other visitors to 
central and eastern Mashonaland. As we have seen, whites in the 
1890s thought that their rulers, the paramount chiefs, possessed no 
real power. This was certainly a mistake. They all preserved 
rituals of ‘kingship’, dating perhaps from before the Mutapas and 
the Rozwi but profoundly influenced by the ceremonial of those 
empires. In Barwe in the first half of the nineteenth century, 
according to a Portuguese account of that period, the installation 
of the Makombe was still attended by the rituals of ceremonial 
incest, ordeals, and so on, which had characterized the accession 
of the Mutapa. The accession of the Makoni of Maungwe was 
accompanied by the ceremony of the ‘royal’ fire. In Manyika the 
Mutassa chiefs were still exposed to the danger of ritual killing in 
the nineteenth century — a present-day Manyika poet has given us 
this version of their accession instructions: ‘Should famine come 
upon this land we will strike off your head. Know then that we 
desire rain, deal lovingly with all your councillors, spread no slander 
about men. Enrich the poor, and whosoever it may be, show mercy 
to all who enter into this your citadel.’ The Mangwende of Nohwe 
was not allowed to leave his paramountcy, nor come face to face 
with another paramount, for fear of the effects of the emanations of 
royal spiritual energy. Through all the fighting of 1896-7, though 
hunted by the white forces, the Mangwende never passed outside 
the boundaries of his land. The paramountcies did not reproduce, 
of course, the elaborate bureaucratic hierarchy of the Mutapas but 
they did have hereditary officers responsible for ceremonial func- 
tions and in a variety of other ways showed what Professor Oliver 
calls ‘vestigial traces of a strongly centralized political structure.’ 2 

So far from being rootless and without a sense of history, then, 
the peoples and especially the aristocracies of these paramountcies 

1 D. P. Abraham, ‘The early political history of the Kingdom of Mwene 
Mutapa’, op. cit.; ‘The Principality of Maungwe’, NADA, 1951. 

2 ‘Account of the Succession of the Makombe’, NAD A, 1954. 



could relate themselves to two or three centuries of a traditionally 
known past. The paramounts, thought of as so powerless, in fact 
exercised a profound, extensive and subtle influence through their 
relationship with the previous occupiers, with the dead, and with 
the land. ‘The power of the Shona chiefs was relatively limited 
compared with that of the Ndebele kings,’ writes Dr Kuper. ‘They 
did not have centralized and disciplined age regiments whereby 
they could exercise military control . . . tribal advisers exercised 
constant restraint on the behaviour of the chiefs.’ Nevertheless, 
she points out, Shona chiefs ‘are treated with very considerable 
respect, and to some extent with reverence’. ‘The Mashona chief 
has never been credited with great power over his people’, wrote 
Native Commissioner Edwards in 1899, wise in the experience of 
the risings, ‘but although he has not had the tyrannical power of 
some native chiefs in other territories he has a moral power as head 
of his tribe which we are getting to understand better every day 
and he can use this power for either good or evil just as he thinks 
it will suit him best.’ The central and western Shona paramounts 
were not Ndebele kings; but if, as Professor Oliver has written, the 
Mwene Mutapa and the Rozwi Mambos were Divine Kings, the 
paramounts were divine kings writ small. 1 

Perhaps the best way to achieve a sympathetic insight into what 
was involved in the institution of chieftainship in these paramount- 
cies is from Mr Herbert Chitepo’s remarkable poem, Soko Risina 
Musoro , which describes the last days of the Mutassa paramountcy 
before the coming of colonial rule. Mutassa’s court drummer, 
Curu, speaks to the assembled people of the paramount. ‘He who 
stands here is the Night-Walker, whom you know, he it was who 
led us here and gave us the blessings of a country. We knew him — 
that he had the heart of a lion. All men were astonished to see him, 
they turned to look upon him, twice, thrice, and yet a fourth time. 
All men feared him and numbered his blessings. They knew that 
even God had made choice of him.’ ‘In the years gone by’, says 
Curu again, now addressing the Mutassa himself, ‘the earth 
trembled when trodden by the foot of King Mutassa, and the 
crops of the earth came out to greet you and to satisfy your family. 
The voice of your prayers was carried by the wind and was followed 
by the rain clouds.’ ‘You are the lion”, says another councillor. 
‘You are the foe of the land, you are the bull in this our kraal. You 
1 N. C. Mrewa, Annual Report for year ending 31 March 1899, NSI 1/1/1. 


are the one who has the power to pray to those who are ahead in 
the nameless place. We are your children, O King, we are the 
fruit of the stem of the great tree, the tree of the Lion.’ And the old 
paramount himself remembers the time ‘when I sat upon the 
throne governing all the land. I ruled, but I ruled with the power 
that comes from my fore-fathers, the power without beginning, 
which I thought was endless. We fought battles and were victor- 
ious, and returned home with gold and riches.’ 1 

The Shona paramounts of the 1890s still enjoyed the ‘power 
without beginning’ which they, too, thought was endless. They 
also enjoyed, though on a very much reduced scale, something of 
the ‘gold and riches’ which had been the economic support of the 
great empire. In the 1890s the gold trade with Tete, which had 
been one of the sources of strength of the Mutapa, was still con- 
tinuing in north, east and much of central Mashonaland. It was 
no longer the monopoly of the ruler of a powerful empire, able to 
exploit long-distance trade for the support of his semi-urbanized 
capital. But individual paramounts were able to control the trade 
in their own areas and to derive considerable advantage from it. 
The Shona paramount, Dr Kuper tells us, was ‘the wealthiest man 
in his tribe’ and ‘also supposed to be the most generous’. The 
hospitality which he offered, the state which he kept, was dependent 
partly on fines, tribute labour, gifts of ‘royal’ game, and so on. 
It was also often dependent, as was the supply of firearms for his 
warriors, on the trade with Tete. 

Reports of the 1890s show us the trade in operation; Goanese 
and half-caste traders basing themselves on the kraal of the para- 
mount, as once the Arabs and Swahili had based themselves at the 
Mutapa’s court, with their agents going out to the kraals of the 
various headmen and giving in return for gold, cloth, beads and 
above all guns. ‘A good deal of alluvial gold was washed by the 
natives from the two rivers, Mazoe and Nyadiri’, an early Native 
Commissioner tells us. ‘It was, I may say, the attraction for the 
Goanese traders who annually visited the Fungwe. Each of the 
different headmen had their own gold washing sites on the rivers 
Mazoe and Nyadiri. The whole kraal or group of kraals would 
move there for two months every year, usually the months of 
September and October, for gold washing. The women did most 
of the washing, assisted by the children. . . . This yearly washing 
1 H. C. Chitepo, Soko Risina Musoro, Oxford, 1958. 



of gold had been going on from time immemorial, hundreds of 
women were yearly employed, the gold won must have been quite 
considerable. The greater portion went to Tete. 5 In 1895 two 
English traders were able to verify ‘the accounts they had often 
heard of the Portuguese trading with the natives in gold dust. On 
the Gwetera river they saw huge circular pits in the dry sandy 
bottom of the river where the natives wash for gold. The usual 
method employed by the merchants at Tete ... is to employ about 
a dozen intelligent natives (often half castes) under the charge of a 
head man. The head man takes down trading goods, perhaps to 
the value of some hundreds of pounds, mainly consisting of beads, 
white limbo and guns. . . The head man selects his headquarters 
and giving his subordinates each a certain complement of goods 
despatches them to the different kraals situated on the gold bearing 
parts. At the expiration of the washing season when the heavy 
rains silt the river beds . . . the headman collects his men, collects 
what gold they have traded and returns to Tete. Martins and his 
fellow traders have often netted as much as 20 or 30 lbs. weight of 
gold in one season. 5 1 

Whatever the disturbances of the nineteenth century they had 
neither destroyed the deeply rooted authority of the paramounts 
nor completely dislocated the long established pattern of trade. 
Nor had they destroyed the religious systems of the Shona of the 
existence of which the whites were so incredulous. The universal 
missionary belief that the Shona had no sense of the divine or 
of the religious life was extraordinarily beside the mark. As Dr 
Kuper tells us, ‘the Shona have an elaborate cult, unusual in 
southern Africa, centring in the Supreme Being, Mwari 5 . It would 
in fact be more accurate, at any rate for the nineteenth century, to 
say that the Shona peoples had two elaborate religious systems 
centring in Mwari. The concept of Mwari — or Mlimoas he came to 
be called in Matabeleland — as the high God was common through- 
out the Shona area but there were significantly different systems 
for making approaches to him. The two developed systems were the 
system of the spirit mediums, or the Mondoro cult; and the cult of 
the oracular deity, usually known as the Mwari or Mlimo cult. Mr 
Abraham has argued that the two systems originally formed 
one coherent system of belief and practice; that the monarchies 

1 Reminiscences of ‘Wiri’ Edwards, op. cit. ; report by Col. Frank Rhodes, 
11 June 1895, LO 5/2/43- 


of both the Mutapa dynasty and the Rozwi Mambos were sup- 
ported by spirit mediums and by priests of Mwari. My own 
view of the evidence leads me rather to suppose that the system of 
the spirit mediums was particularly associated with the Mutapas 
and the Mwari cult particularly associated with the Rozwi kings, 
and that despite the innumerable connections between them they 
were, and remained, distinct systems. Certainly in the 1890s each 
system had its own geographical area, though the two overlapped. 
The Mwari cult was effective among the Shona peoples of what 
was by then Matabeleland and of western Mashonaland but did 
not exist in organized form further east; while the system of the 
spirit mediums was effective in north, east, and central Mashona- 
land and in parts of western Mashonaland but did not operate in 
Matabeleland. The differences between them were considerable 
ones but the mediumistic element in the Mwari cult, the fact that 
some of the spirit mediums were the vehicles not of dead ancestors 
but of nature spirits or manifestations of Mwari, and the long 
history of interaction of the two state and religious systems made 
it easy for them to cooperate in 1896. 1 

The system of the spirit mediums expresses the common African 
idea of the increased power of the dead, of their ability to communi- 
cate more freely with the divine, and of their role as protector of 
the land and the people. The dead were thought of as forming 
what Mr J. V. Taylor in his recent study of African religious 
thought calls ‘the tender bridge’ between the living and the divine. 
Mr Chitepo, in the poem already quoted, has a striking expression 
of this idea in a Shona context, when he has one of his Manyika 
councillors describe the place where the nation makes its rituals 
of approach to the dead ancestors, in these terms. ‘In ancient days 
all things were there. For there it was that heaven and earth were 
wont to meet. Every year we used to gather there, we the creatures 
of the earth, and they, the elders who led the way over the river in 
between, which divides the creator from his creatures.’ 2 

This dividing river was crossed for many of the Shona peoples 
through the spirit mediums. The spirit medium was a man or a 
woman believed to be regularly possessed by an important ancestor 

1 D. P. Abraham, ‘The roles of Chaminuka and the Mhondoro cults in 
Shona Political History’, in The £ambesian Past, Manchester, 1966, eds. E. T. 
Stokes and R. Brown. 

2 J- V. Taylor, The Primal Vision, London, 1963, Chitepo, op. cit. 



spirit. When in a trance such a medium spoke with the voice of the 
ancestor, became, for all essential purposes, the ancestor; in this 
way the living and the dead could literally converse. The living 
would approach the dead for advice, for intercession with the 
divine on behalf of the people; the dead would tell the living of 
their past and something of the world outside life. The claims of 
the spirit medium, when thus considered, are breathtaking ones, 
and whites in the 1890s unanimously agreed in regarding them as 
conscious frauds. More recent investigators have concluded that 
it is true of them as of the priest-diviners of Ghana that they ‘are 
for the most part honest men. The phenomenon of dissociated 
personality, upon which their claim to veneration is based, is 
genuine and impressive. The priests themselves reverence it and 
submit to severe discipline in its service.’ The Shona spirit medium 
who takes himself and his position seriously observes rules of 
austerity to fit himself to be ‘the purse’ filled with the treasure of 
the dead; and some of the mediums have impressed students with 
their sense of vocation and service to the traditional values of their 
community. 1 

Under the Mutapa dynasty this system of spirit mediums was 
closely associated with the monarchy. The spirits who thus mani- 
fested themselves were those of important men — ancestors of the 
king himself, or perhaps of past representatives of the original 
owners of the soil. It was regarded as an essential part of the duties 
of the King, as of the paramount chief on a smaller scale, to main- 
tain contact with these powerful dead on behalf of the nation. It 
was from them, indeed, that he derived ‘the power that has no 
beginning’; and it was to them that he must make propitiation and 
intercession on behalf of the people he ruled. The Mutapa mon- 
archy observed a cult of the royal graves, the reigning monarch 
visiting the graves of his predecessors before any major expedition 
or initiative, just as the king of Barotseland was still doing in the 
1890s. When later, in the decline of the Mutapa monarchy, the 
royal graves were demolished, the mediums continued to operate 
and to ‘represent’ the past monarchs. Under the Mutapas there 
were mediums not only for important royal ancestors but also for 
past owners of the soil or noted rain-makers, like Dzivaguru, the 

1 M. J. Field, Search for Security, London, i960. The fullest studies of the spirit 
mediums are, M. Gelfand, Shona Ritual, Cape Town, 1959, and Shona Religion 
Cape Town, 1962. 


famous rain-maker of the conquered Tavara. The medium of 
Dzivaguru, based at the cult shrine in the foothills of the Mavura- 
dona mountains, became almost the chief ritual officer of the 
Mutapa kingdom and through him the conquerors assured them- 
selves of ‘peace with the land’. 

The same sort of system existed in the various paramountcies 
or principalities which grew up around the Mutapa kingdom. The 
founder of the paramountcy usually became the senior spirit of the 
area and his medium the senior spirit medium; other significant 
ancestors would also have mediums and in the same way as the 
assimilation of the Dzivaguru cult important nature-spirits or rain- 
makers would find representation in this hierarchy of mediums. 
Thus there grew up what Mr Abraham calls a double ‘status cate- 
gory of political implication; a lower category of spirits at tribal 
level and an upper category of supra-tribal spirits connected with 
the royal dynasties’ or with powerful rain-makers. This double 
hierarchy of spirits and mediums survived the collapse of the 
Mutapa dynasty so that, long after the secular Mutapa had been 
confined to his Tavara enclave, the mediums of important Mutapas 
of the past, or of spirits like Dzivaguru or Chaminuka, were still 
powerful in wide area of east, central and western Mashonaland. 1 

When the Mutapa kingdom was still functioning, these mediums 
had clearly played an important political as well as a ritual role — 
the two were inextricable. They at once guaranteed and limited 
the power of the king; just as mediums at the tribal level guaran- 
teed and limited the power of the chief. In this way the senior 
mediums acted as a centralizing and stabilizing factor and this to 
some extent they continued to do after the collapse of the secular 
institutions of the kingdom. The senior mediums of the para- 
mountcies, some of whom possessed a more extensive area of in- 
fluence than any tribal chief, were of course continually involved 
in tribal politics. And over and above them were the great mediums 
of Mutotaand Chingoo, Dzivaguru and Chaminuka and Nehanda, 
who commanded respect over very large areas and were the near- 
est thing to a ‘national’ focus that the Shona of Mashonaland 
possessed. We shall discuss in more detail later the exact extent to 
which the senior mediums were influential and effective in the 
1890s and their significance in the risings. We can say here that 
despite all the qualifications which can be made, the situation in 

1 D. P. Abraham, op. cit. 


central and eastern Mashonaland in the 1890s was not unlike that 
described by Mr Ogot in a recent article on the Luo. ‘No political 
superstructure, such as a federation or a con-federation existed. 
But many of the famous prophets, who acted as counsellors to the 
chiefs, and whose main function was to look after the spiritual 
well-being of the tribe, and to prescribe moral standards against 
which the policies of individual chiefs had to be judged, were 
known and consulted all over Luo-land. This tended to emphasize 
the unity of the Luo as a group.’ 1 

The Mwari cult was based upon a different notion of how the 
living could establish contact with the divine. The High God in 
this view of him is active and immanent. ‘Mwari is spiritual owner 
of the earth and creator of mankind,’ writes Dr Kuper. ‘He inter- 
venes actively in human affairs . . . He is not a remote ancestor . . . 
and is not concerned with purely personal affairs but only with 
matters of tribal importance; he punishes acts, such as incest, which 
are considered contrary to nature and the perpetuation of the tribe, 
with pestilence and famine. He manifests himself in such great 
natural phenomena as volcanic eruptions and lightning.’ ‘Mwari 
was a genuine conception of deity’, writes Father Christopher 
Devlin, ‘an invisible supreme being.’ Something of the content of 
this concept of deity and of the significance of the High God to 
those who worshipped him can be seen from a praise poem of the 
Mwari cult, collected by Professor Fortune. 


Lion of praise! 

Lion who laughs at 

My little spear, though I throw it far. 

But he sees everything, even in Tswana country; 

He gathers fruit afar, 

And comes back when his children are longing for him. 

Lion of praise! 

Mwali with the single breast 

Sucked by all the tribes; [i.e. provider of rain]. 

His needle is not for sewing blankets 

But sews up rocks with ease. [i.e. master of the lightning]. 

1 Ogot, ‘British Administration in the Central Nyanza District of Kenya, 
1900-60’, Journal of African History, Vol. IV, No. 2, 1963. 



Mwali is a great one; 

A great Mukwakwa fruit tree without sap, 

Which is eaten by his children in the rainy time; 

A Mupani tree without a hollow which saved the tired 
squirrel, (i.e. He provides comfort in all seasons and suc- 
cour in unexpected ways). 

Lion of praise, 

Lion of laughter, Great Mbedzi . 1 

This praise-song proclaims an altogether unusual sense of the 
closeness of the creator and of his concern with the welfare of his 
people. In this system of religious thought, indeed, the role of the 
dead as a bridge between the living and the divine was not empha- 
sized; it was believed that Mwari spoke directly to the living, not 
only in the thunder and the wind, but as a voice, heard most 
frequently in caves amidst the rocks, and that he could be ap- 
proached by the living with sacrifice and supplication. But though 
the dead did not play an important part as intermediaries, inter- 
mediaries there were between Mwari and the great majority of those 
who worshipped him. The worship of Mwari in what was to become 
Matabeleland and adjacent areas developed into an elaborate and 
esotoric cult; the place or places at which the god chose to manifest 
himself became oracular shrines served by an organized priesthood. 
The organization of the cult at its central shrine is thus described 
by Blake-Thompson and Summers. ‘Mwali speaks through or in- 
spires the utterances of the chief officer of the cult, the Mouth; he 
receives petitions from another high officer, the Ear, and infor- 
mation from a less important officer, the Eye.’ The external organ- 
ization of the cult was in the hands of the last named, and was in 
itself complex. In every district in which the influence of the cult 
was dominant there were Wosana or Manyusa, messengers to 
Mwari from the chiefs and people of the district and from Mwari 
back to them again. These messengers made at least an annual 
visit to the central shrine or shrines, taking with them cattle and 
gifts as offerings for rain or fertility or relief from misfortunes of 
various kinds. At the shrine reports on the situation in the districts 

1 Kalanga praise-song, collected from Mr Masola Kumile by Professor 
George Fortune, who has very kindly made it available to me. Kuper, op. cit. 
Devlin, op. cit. 


were made to Maziso, the Eye; petitions addressed to Nzewe, the 
Ear; and answers received from Muromo, the Mouth. 1 

Whites in the 1890s regarded this cult apparatus as an elaborate 
and conscious swindle, designed to extort gifts from the credulous. 
More recent commentators have been more sympathetic, point- 
ing out that the criticisms levelled at the cult ‘apply equally to any 
form of institutional religion, especially those which are esoteric’. 
It is worth bearing in mind what Shona informants in the Inyati 
area told the missionary, Elliott, in the 1890s. A priest of Mwari 
was known because he was ‘touched’ by the god and subject to 
trances or convulsions; but he was also known by superior virtue. 
‘If he honours others and is upright and good we know he is sent 
from Mngwali.’ Elliott himself pointed out that ‘these “sons of god” 
are in quite a different class to the ordinary bone-thrower’. There 
can be no doubt that the white insistence in the 1890s in regarding 
the Mwari priesthood as sinister and fraudulent ‘witch-doctors’ 
prevented any real understanding of the role of the cult. 2 

This elaborate organization obviously lent itself to the support 
of an experiment in political centralization. ‘The organization of 
the cult is identical with that of the courts of important African 
chiefs,’ write Blake-Thompson and Summers. ‘The addressing of 
petitions to one official, the issue of edicts by another, a secret 
intelligence service and a numerous court were common form’. It 
is clear that the value of working with, or controlling, this elaborate 
hierarchy was fully appreciated by the Rozwi Mambos. It was for 
this reason, Summers has suggested, that they based themselves at 
Great Zimbabwe, which was evidently the site of the chief Mwari 
shrine. ‘Zimbabwe was a religious centre. All the miscellany of 
buildings on the Hill and in the valley were attracted here because 
of the special sanctity of the site. Some were undoubtedly royal 
dwellings, others administrative buildings or even trading places, 
but they crowded round the sacred area just as King, Parliament, 
Government, trade and commerce all crowd round the Royal 

1 J. Blake-Thompson and R. Summers, ‘Mlimo and Mwari: notes on a 
Native Religion in Southern Rhodesia’, NADA, 1956; H. Franklin, ‘Manyusa’, 
NADA, 1932. 

2 J. Blake-Thompson and R. Summers, op. cit; W. A. Elliott, ‘The Mashuna’ 
in D. Carnegie, Among the Matabele, London, 1894. See also J. B. Richards, 
‘The Mlimo’, NADA, 1942, where it is asserted that ‘the principles on which 
the belief in Mlimo are founded are no more “superstition” than the old 
Hebraic belief extant in the time of Moses’. 


Church of Westminster Abbey.’ The so-called eastern enclosure at 
Zimbabwe was the site of the Mwari cult activities; there the chief 
officers of the cult and the divine king of the Rozwi confederation 
joined in the ceremonies which assured the welfare of the mon- 
archy and its subjects. ‘This’, writes Summers, ‘was the true centre 
of the whole complex and the most sacred spot in the whole Rozwi 
confederacy. ... It is, even in its sadly ruined state, the very 
epitome of a vanished people and a forgotten culture.’ 1 

Control of the two great cult offices of the Mouth and the Ear 
was left by the Rozwi in the hands of what Father Devlin calls 
‘older Shona (or Karanga) peoples’; but the Eye, Maziso, came to 
be controlled by Rozwi of the royal clan. In political terms ‘the 
third office was the most powerful because it was the effective link 
between the temple and the people; it supervised the external 
organization of the cult’. In this way the Rozwi monarchy con- 
trolled the ‘secret intelligent service’ of the cult, and in this way 
also added to its military and political authority ‘a sort of spirit- 
ual domination’ over many of the Shona peoples. 2 

As the influence of the senior spirit mediums survived the col- 
lapse of the Mutapa confederacy, so the influence of the Mwari 
cult survived the destruction of the Rozwi monarchy by the Swazi 
and Ndebele. We shall discuss later the question of its relationship 
with the Ndebele state and the exact extent of its influence in the 
1890s. Here we need only note that the cult still enjoyed prestige 
throughout its old area of operation; that its prestige was still 
linked with that of the Rozwi; and that these two facts were of 
great importance in the risings in both Matabeleland and Mashona- 

We have seen something now of the Shona past. What we have 
seen — this long history, this complex of religious and political 
institutions and beliefs, this pattern of economic activity, these 
notions of prestige and communal well-being — adds up to a Shona 
‘way of life’ or perhaps to Shona ‘ways of life’. So far from being 
meekly prepared to succumb to the first colonial pressures, this 
‘way of life’ had been putting up a resolute and successful resistance 
to them over centuries. For centuries Portuguese power and Portu- 
guese ideas had been pressing in on the eastern and central Shona 
peoples. Portuguese power had been successfully repulsed by the 

1 Blake-Thompson and R. Summers, op. cit.; R. Summers, Zimbabwe, A 
Rhodesian Mystery. 2 C. Devlin, op. cit. 



military strength of the Rozwi confederation. Portuguese ideas 
fared no better. A Jesuit historian has described the fate of the 
Portuguese missionary effort amongst the Shona. ‘What was the 
result of these hundred years of devoted effort? Almost nothing. 
It was one of the most complete failures of missionary history. 
During these years when missionaries were struggling to Christian- 
ize the Zambesi valley and the north-east of Mashonaland, Xavier’s 
work on the Fishery coast on the southern tip of India was being 
continued, and Christianity remains vigorous to this day. . . . 
Japan too had its Christian converts during these years, some of 
whom remained faithful through one of the worst persecutions in 
history, and through two centuries of isolation, until Christian 
missionaries found them again in the middle years of the nine- 
teenth century. . . . None of these regions bears comparison with 
this part of Africa, where, though there were no notable external 
trials, the Christian faith which had been taught so long and 
so devotedly perished so completely and so soon.’ In the 1890s 
the same stubborn resistance was being put up; everywhere in 
Mashonaland missionary ‘beginnings were slow and painful’; in 
three year’s work prior to the rising the Roman Catholic mission 
at Chishawasha could record only two baptisms, and their experi- 
ence was common to all. ‘A closer acquaintance with the Mashona’, 
confessed a Jesuit missionary in 1897, ‘shows at all events that they 
have but little willingness to become Christians.’ He put it down to 
‘their depraved habits and their low intelligence’, but it was rather 
a manifestation of loyalty to their own concepts of society and the 
divine; a steady passive resistance which was to turn in 1896 into 
an armed attack upon the missions and their few converts as well 
as upon all other whites. 1 

To say that there was a broad Shona ‘way of life’ and that this 
was still being defended in the 1890s is not to claim that this ‘way 
of life’ had survived everywhere in the old Shona-speaking areas, 
intact in all its aspects. Clearly in part the Ndebele had done what 
the Portuguese had failed to do — destroyed in the area of Ndebele 
settlement the structure of Shona society and assimilated many 
Shona speakers into their own system. We will say more about the 
role of the Shona peoples in the Ndebele state proper later. But 

1 W. F. Rea, S.J., ‘The Missionary Factor in Southern Rhodesia’, Historical 
Association of Rhodesia and Nyasaland , Local Series, 7, 1962; Viator, S.J., ‘A visit 
to Chishawasha’, Zambesi Mission Record, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1898. 



here we will examine how far the Ndebele incursion had affected 
Shona society in those parts of Matabeleland outside the area of 
Ndebele settlement and in Mashonaland. 

The area of Ndebele settlement, in which alone the institutions 
of the Ndebele state functioned fully, was relatively compact; 
certainly it covered a much smaller area than either the old Mutapa 
or the old Rozwi confederation. Outside that area the Ndebele did 
not attempt to build up societies on the Ndebele pattern. But 
whites in the 1890s believed that Shona life was affected every- 
where in Southern Rhodesia by the regular Ndebele raids on the 
surrounding peoples; raids, it was held, which had depopulated 
the greater part of the Shona territories and undermined Shona 

A few only of the innumerable statements to this effect will 
suffice. In 1890, for example, Jameson wrote from the Pioneer 
Column, which had then reached Chibi’s country, to report ‘how 
delighted these unfortunate Banyai are to welcome the coming in 
of the White Man in force sufficient to put an end to all this mur- 
der and slave raiding. Further on in Mashonaland Mr Selous tells 
me that there are entire tracts of country absolutely depopulated 
by the Matabele and even where the people remain they have 
been so impoverished by the Matabele impis that the latter no 
longer think it worth while to make their excursions to the north- 
east.’ Further experience did not modify these views. In 1893, just 
before the Ndebele war, the Chartered Company’s secretary, 
Rutherfoord Harris, told the London Office that it was estimated 
that the Ndebele had killed 100,000 Shona during the last 70 
years; this estimate having been arrived at on the basis of ‘the 
very large number of deserted villages and deserted valleys’. At 
much the same time Father Hartmann, S.J., wrote to the press 
claiming that ‘if no stop is put to these raids it will go on until the 
Mashonas are exterminated. . . . The Mashonas are a complete 
wreck physically, intellectually and also morally. In my constant 
intercourse with them I hear it oftentimes said that if the white 
men do not protect them they will emigrate from the country.’ 
And at the very end of 1893 Selous published his famous, Travel 
and Adventure in South East Africa , in which he drew a terrible 
picture of devastation. ‘The poor Mashunas, unskilled in war and 
living, moreover, in small communities scattered all over the 
country,’ he wrote of the Mashonaland plateau country north of 



Salisbury, ‘without any central government, fell an easy prey to 
the invader, and very soon every stream in their country ran red 
with their blood, while vultures and hyaenas feasted undisturbed 
amidst the ruins of their devastated homes. Their cattle, sheep and 
goats were driven off by their conquerors and their children . . . 
were taken for slaves. ... In a few years there were no more 
Mashunas left in the open country, the remnant that had escaped 
massacre having fled into the mountainous districts to the south 
and east of their former dwellings, where they still live.’ If these 
reports were correct it would not have mattered much how long 
established and complex the Shona ‘way of life’ had been since the 
Shona would almost have ceased to exist as an organized society. 1 

r lt seems clear, however, that these assertions were wildly over- 
stated. That there were destructive and cruel Ndebele raids upon 
Shona peoples and that the prosperity and security of Shona life 
in the 1890s was woefully reduced from the high days of the 
Rozwi confederation are both true. But it is not true that the 
Shona speaking peoples had been almost wiped out or that they 
had become totally demoralized. We must distinguish, in dis- 
cussing this question, between the Shona peoples who lived within 
the radius of constant Ndebele activity, and those who lived out- 
side it. There is no doubt that very many Shona speaking people 
in a great circle around the area of Ndebele settlement were ex- 
posed to constant Ndebele visitations and demands. The Kalanga 
of the south west of Matabeleland; the Karanga of the Fort 
Victoria area; the Zezuru of Hartley and Charter and southern 
Lomagundi; the Rozwi, Tonga and other groups to the north of 
Inyati; all these fell into this category. But what did this Ndebele 
activity actually involve for these peoples? 

We can get some idea from the reminiscences of one of the 
Ndebele raiders himself, as recorded in 1898. ‘The next few years,’ 
he said, speaking of the period following Mzilikazi’s arrival in thq 
country, ‘were very exciting, for we were always out raiding and ] 
subduing the neighbouring tribes and collecting tribute from their 
chiefs. If they submitted and acknowledged our King’s sovereignty 
and if they gave cattle freely we left them alone but if they refused 
we fought them and burnt their kraals and took their young 

1 Jameson report to the Cape Times, 17 Aug. 1890, LO 5/2/3; Hartmann 
article, 1893, LO 5/2/29; Harris to London Office, 27 Sept. 1893, LO 5/2/30; 
F. C. Selous, op. cit. 




people into slavery. . . . After we had discovered the country of 
the Maswina and their people our King partitioned it off into 
districts and each of our chiefs would be allotted his district in 
which he would collect the King’s tribute, and then the raids 
ceased except when some Maswina chief misbehaved himself or 
refused to pay tribute.’ This records a violent process, certainly, 
and no doubt one bitterly unpopular with its victims, but it does 
not record a process of continued and arbitrary slaughter. 

The impression given by these reminiscences of the increasing 
regularity of Ndebele relations with neighbouring peoples and the 
creation of some sort of system of tribute and submission is sup- 
ported by other evidence. In 1904, for instance, the Tonga chief, 
Pashu, who lived in the Sebungwe area of Matabeleland, resisted 
the collection of hut tax by the administration and refused to 
admit the force of their argument that it was a fair return for pro- 
tection from the Ndebele. ‘Pashu stated that while under Mzili- 
kazi’s rule they were continually carried off, yet after Lobengula’s 
accession he was left unmolested so long as he paid his tribute of 
skins, feathers, etc., to the King.’ Moreover, the evidence suggests 
that under Lobengula even if a chief refused to pay tribute the 
punishment imposed was not necessarily arbitrary and wholesale. 
The famous case of the killing of chief Lomagundi in 1891, for 
instance, is worth examining. The chief had refused any longer to 
acknowledge Lobengula’s supremacy or pay tax. A small impi 
was sent to his area; its commander first visited the senior spirit 
medium of the paramountcy and obtained her approval of the 
punishment of the chief; then the chief’s kraal was attacked and 
he and his people killed. Jameson’s chief reaction was one of sur- 
prise that so few people had been killed; the action, he reported, 
was ‘in accordance with Lobengula’s laws and customs’. And laws 
and customs of a sort rather than random brutality did govern 
Ndebele relations with their tributaries. 1 

Moreover the consultation of the senior spirit medium brings 
out another aspect of Ndebele relations with their Shona tribu- 
taries. The Ndebele made no attempt to re-model Shona political 
or religious institutions in the tributary areas, but rather in many 
cases entered into relations of varying kinds with Shona para- 
mounts and mediums. Shona society in these areas was certainly 

1 Citsha’s statement, 1898, WE 3/2/6; report of G.N.C. Matabeleland, May 
1904, LO 5/5/26; for Lomagundi see CT 1/15/1 and LO 5/2/16. 



exposed to severe strains by the Ndebele demands but in essentials 
it continued as it had done in the past — much poorer than in the 
days of peace; humiliated by Ndebele supremacy, exposed to a 
system which though observing some sort of rules was nevertheless 
capricious, but surviving. In these circumstances the Shona 
peoples showed characteristic adaptability; it was even possible, 
as the example of chief Chilimanzi shows, to exploit the Ndebele 
power for one’s own ends and to preserve a precarious independ- 
ence. Manowe, son of chief Chilimanzi, was a great hunter and in 
that capacity a firm favourite with Lobengula. On his father’s 
death he contested the succession to the paramountcy with his 
uncle, gaining both Lobengula’s backing and that of the majority 
of his people to whom he explained ‘that to maintain themselves 
as a separate people they would have to adopt a policy of their 
own, especially as their country bordered onto Matabeleland 
proper. . . . Manowe’s position was a very difficult one,’ wrote the 
first Native Commissioner of his area, ‘for the Matabele on their 
way into Mashonaland on their raids inevitably passed through 
his country first, and although they looked upon him as a Mashona, 
yet he kept his tribe neutral as far as the Mashona were concerned, 
assisting neither side, never allowing his men to accompany Mata- 
bele impis on a raid or permitting them to assist the Mashonas to 
defend themselves against the Matabele. He was thus rewarded 
by the Matabele by not being molested or taxed, and he avoided 
the enmity of his Mashona neighbours in that he never assisted 
the Matabele against them and often warned them of their 
coming surreptitiously.’ 1 

Outside this ring of tributary territories co-existing with the 
Ndebele state in some sort of regular relationship were areas into 
which the Ndebele continued to make periodic raids for loot and 
which did not recognize their supremacy. But these raids have 
been greatly exaggerated as factors of disintegration. In later 
years, at any rate, few Shona communities suffered heavy losses 
of life or property as a result of raids which they were organized 
to survive. Our Ndebele warrior himself admits that ‘these people 
all cleared into the granite ranges and hills to build their strong- 
holds and kept a keen watch on our movements. They also 
developed a sort of code of calls and ways of sounding their drums 
and sent messengers to keep one another informed of our every 
1 Mnyenyezi’s story of Chilimanzi, WE 3/2/6. 



movement. So it became very difficult to take them by surprise as 
time went on.’ Once again the evidence supports this. One of the 
paramounts exposed to Ndebele attacks, for example, was chief 
Kunzwi-Nyandoro, who had incurred Ndebele enmity while 
living in the Hartley area and had moved with his people to the 
Salisbury district. Father Hartmann has left us an account of a 
Ndebele raid on Kunzwi’s people. As soon as the alarm was given 
the people herded their animals into a great cave on the side of a 
steep hill, ‘in an inconceivably short space of time’ and ‘without 
the least sign of any panic or confusion’. Indeed, the Jesuit re- 
ported, they were ‘all in very good spirits’. Our Ndebele raider 
confirms the effectiveness of such tactics and the difficulty of 
storming such Shona strongholds — ‘in such cases we bided our 
time’, he says, ‘and trusted to our luck to catch them unawares on 
some future occasion’. 1 

Chief Kunzwi-Nyandoro, indeed, is an excellent example of the 
point I am making. If anyone should have been ‘a complete 
wreck’, it was he. He and his people had moved from the north- 
east of Mashonaland to the west and back again to the central 
plateau, having to fight their way and exposed to a series of 
Ndebele raids. Yet Kunzwi-Nyandoro, in his stronghold and on 
his guard, retained all the attitudes and pride of a Shona para- 
mount, exerting a powerful authority over his people, respecting 
the spiritual eminence of the Dzivaguru and Chaminuka mediums, 
and savouring his ‘independence’ above everything. In 1897, when 
called upon to surrender, Kunzwi would not come to negotiate 
and ‘said it was unbecoming for a King to leave his kraal’. And 
however absurd it seemed to the whites, it was still as kings that 
.the Shona paramounts saw themselves in the 1890s. 2 

Finally, there were extensive areas of central and eastern 
Mashonaland which remained either largely or completely un- 
affected by Ndebele raids. The most impressive testimony to this 
comes from the officers of the Company, as they learnt on the spot 
in 1890 and 1891 the true facts of the Mashonaland situation. The 
first Administrator, Colquhoun, and the first commander of 
police, Pennefather, had been instructed that the Company’s claim 
to Mashonaland depended upon concessions from Lobengula 

1 Citsha’s story, ibid; ‘The History of the Zambesi Mission’, Zambesi Mission 
Record, Vol. 3, No. 32. 

2 Grey to Rhodes, 19 June 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. I, Vol. 1. 


and that his effective sovereignty extended throughout the terri- 
tory. But once in Mashonaland they both became convinced 
that the true situation was very different. ‘Lobengula’s claims . . . 

I have understood to extend at least as far east as the Sabi river,’ 
wrote Colquhoun in September 1890. ‘I consider, however, that 
if any inquiry were made on the spot, this claim would be most 
difficult to establish, and it would be undesirable to have the 
question raised. . . . Between the Sabi and Ruzarwe rivers there 
are chiefs who acknowledge no one’s authority. They have certainly 
never been under Matabele authority, nor have they ever seen any 
Matabele. . . . Selous has maintained, and maintains as you 
know, that (a) east of Sabi and (b) north and east of the Hunyani 
the Matabele have no real claim whatever, and that such claims 
would not stand investigation .’ Pennefather came to similar con- 
clusions. ‘After making personal acquaintance with the country 
and the natives,’ he wrote, T am strongly of the opinion that 
Lobengula’s impis have not raided further than 32 0 east.’ And in 
October 1890, Selous, sent by Colquhoun to make good the Com- 
pany’s title by treaties with ‘independent’ Shona chiefs, wrote 
satirically that he was ‘off to get mineral concessions and come to 
a friendly understanding with several native chiefs living to the 
south and east of furthest Mashonaland, of whom neither Lo 
Bengoola, Dr Harris nor Dr Jameson have ever yet heard’. 1 

The paramounts to whom Selous was sent included Makoni of 
Maungwe, Soswe of Mbire, Mtoko of Budja, and Marange of 
Boca. Treaties were also made with the Mangwende of Nohwe 
and Mutassa of Manyika. These paramounts were certainly not 
basking in peace and prosperity in the 1890s. The eighteenth 
century ‘golden age’ was over. If they were not under pressure 
from the Ndebele they were certainly under pressure from re- 
newed Portuguese activity and especially they were involved in 
the series of wars sparked off by the ambitions of the remarkable 
Goanese adventurer, Gouevia. They, too, had abandoned their 
well-built stone kraals in the valleys for strongholds in the granite 
hills. But there was certainly no question of their being extermin- 
ated without white protection or being forced to emigrate from 
the paramountcies which still formed the total and sufficient ob- 
jects of their ambitions. Among them, at any rate, the Shona ‘way 

1 Colquhoun to Rhodes, 27 Sept. 1890, CT 1 /3 /3 ; Pennefather to Colquhoun, 

II Oct. 1890, CT 1/1/3; Selous to Harris, 4 Oct. 1890, CT 1/20/3. 





of life’ was certainly not dead in the 1890s, and despite their 
poverty they were not totally unprepared to defend it since the 
disorders of the nineteenth century had meant an increased flow 
i of firearms into the area. 

We have now made all the qualifications necessary to the white 
views of Shona society in the 1890s. We must be careful to avoid 
errors in the other direction. Shona society proved itself in 1896 
and 1897 to be capable of coordinated and determined resistance. 
The potentiality was there but there were formidable difficulties 
in the way of its realization. With all their history, all their shared 
participation in the great centralization experiments, for all their 
devotion to the way of life to which they had been accustomed, 

> the Shona paramounts were extremely disunited in the 1890s. The 
constant fighting which went on between them was, indeed, a 
part of the way of life which they cherished. Because of this some 
considerable changes were needed before they could be brought 
together into rebellion. We shall see later how this was done. But 
we must end this account of Shona history with an illustration of 
Shona division. In May 1892 Captain Lendy left Salisbury with 
a police patrol to visit the paramounts of the Salisbury district. 
His report gives a vivid picture of the disunity of men who four 
years later were allied against the whites. Paramount chief 
Chishawasha came in to complain against paramount chief 
Kunzwi-Nyandoro for an assault committed before the arrival of 
the whites in the country; paramount chief Marondera was simi- 
larly involved in allegations of raids and counter-raids with chief 
Chiduku; chief Mbelewa ‘seems to live in constant fear of being 
raided by Makoni’s people’. Lendy’s appearance on the scene was 
taken as an opportunity to gain an advantage over traditional 
rivals rather than as an occasion to offer united resistance. 
Chishawasha thus triumphed over Kunzwi-Nyandoro, telling him 
that ‘he had been to the white man about the case and that he 
would come and wipe him out’. It was hardly surprising that 
Lendy did not foresee the challenge of 1896, for many changes 
were to take place in the next four years. 1 

The Ndebele state was very different from the Rozwi and 
Mutapa confederations. It centred around an active and authori- 
1 Lendy to Jameson, 23 June 1892, A 1/9/1. 



tarian monarch rather than the sacred but restricted figure of the 
divine king. It was highly centralized military system rather than 
a diffuse bureaucratic one. It made no attempt to set up a ‘trading 
empire’, and although it was in contact with traders from the 
south it did not depend for its power and prosperity, as had the 
older systems, upon control of wide networks of external trade. 
The Ndebele were not craftsmen, nor did they have a reputation 
for divination, prophecy and rain-making, and feared and re- 
spected Shona skills in these respects. Pre-eminently the Ndebele 
King was a national military leader and the Ndebele were war- 
riors and cattle-keepers. The atmosphere of the great kraal of the 
Ndebele King was utterly different from the atmosphere of a 
complex ritual, bureaucratic and commercial centre like Great 
Zimbabwe. Monolithic, authoritarian, militaristic, it was in many 
ways a less attractive system than the old confederations, but 
there was no doubt that it was a highly efficient one. 1 

The character of the Ndebele state had been largely determined 
by its history. ‘Its beginnings were small’, writes Mr Brown, ‘and 
its expansion rapid.’ The first Ndebele King, Mzilikazi, left his 
homeland as a Zulu general fleeing from the anger of Shaka with 
a following of only a few hundred. ‘Subsequently other fugitives 
from Zululand, some with and some without previous ties to 
Mzilikazi, had to be incorporated, as well as thousands of Sotho 
and Tswana captives.’ The Ndebele horde was heterogenous 
enough, then, when it arrived in the 1830s in the country of the 
Rozwi Mambos. Thereafter it assimilated ‘large numbers of 
former inhabitants of the Rozwi empire’ and ‘absorbed a steady 
stream of captives from the medley of tribes periodically raided 
by Matabele war bands’. Faced with the problem of unifying 
these various groups in one system, the Ndebele Kings modified 
Zulu institutions and produced their own strikingly successful 
military state. 2 

This state derived its unity and discipline almost exclusively 
from the institution of monarchy. ‘The fiction was that the king 

1 For the Ndebele state see, A. J. B. Hughes and J. Van Velsen, ‘The Ndebele’ 
in The Shona and Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia, 1955; A. J. B. Hughes, Reconstruc- 
tion of the Ndebele Society under European control, unpublished typescript deposited 
in 1956 at the Rhodes Livingstone Institute, Lusaka; A. J. B. Hughes, Kin, 
Caste and Nation among the Rhodesian Ndebele, Lusaka, 1956; R. Brown, ‘Aspects 
of the Scramble for Matabeleland’ in The Zambesian Past, eds. E. T. Stokes and 
R. Brown, Manchester, 1966. 2 R. Brown, op. cit. 



was the source of all authority, and that all land, cattle, and 
people belonged to him. He was the supreme commander of the 
army and the supreme judge. All major decisions should be made 
by him, and only he had the power of life and death over his sub- 
jects. He was the centre of the great annual ceremony of the 
Inxwala, the First Fruits Ceremony . . . which was the biggest 
ceremony of the Ndebele nation and which everyone tried to 
attend. . . . The king was informed of every detail of what hap- 
pened in his country; of casualties or births among his herds of 
cattle, of domestic incidents among his people, of the arrival and 
movements of Europeans, and so on’. ‘This idea’, wrote Father 
Hartmann in 1893, ‘that every one of the nation is gravitating 
towards their chief, brings in a forcible way home to them that 
they are a compact mass, a force of collected strength, and there- 
fore invincible.’ 1 

v- X The Ndebele king was not merely the ‘fictional’ centre of the 
state; both Mzilikazi and Lobengula were also its actual directors, 
possessing a remarkable grasp of administrative detail, and in- 
formed, through the device of placing the queens in the various 
regimental kraals, of all important developments. Both were men 
of outstanding ability and the Ndebele state never faced the prob- 
lem of a weak and indolent monarch endeavouring to operate the 
institutions of royal absolutism. 

In so far as was possible the system was designed to eliminate 
principles of sectional loyalty. The Ndebele nation was socially 
organized on a caste basis rather than into tribal or clan divisions, 
and there was therefore less danger of a regional or kin combina- 
tion against the central authority. ‘A significant feature’, writes 
Mr Brown, ‘was the absence of any strong genealogical basis for 
the political structure which must have reduced the tendency 
otherwise usually strong in this type of “snow-ball” state to dis- 
integrate by fission.’ Gathered around their king, the Ndebele 
nation, composed of so many different elements, nevertheless held 
tightly together. 

The administrative arrangements, no less than the ethos of the 
Ndebele system, sprang from the military life of the nation. The 
area of Ndebele settlement was divided into four provinces, each 
under its ‘great chief’ or senior induna. Each province was divided 

1 Hughes and Van Velsen, op. cit. Father Hartmann’s article on the Ndebele, 
Aug. 1893, LO 5/2/29. 



into regimental areas, grouped around large regimental kraals or 
towns. These towns were known only by the name of the regiment 
which occupied them. Each regiment was commanded by its 
induna, and the provincial senior indunas also commanded their 
own particular regiments and regimental towns. These indunas 
were the most powerful group in the Ndebele nation under the 
king, but their power sprang from his appointment rather than 
from any hereditary right to chieftainship, or from any ritual 
function. Already existing regiments were maintained by the re- 
cruitment of youths born and reared in the regimental towns, but 
some of these, together with other youths recruited from the 
Kalanga peoples of the Matopos or captured in raids on the 
Shona, were summoned to form new regiments. They underwent 
a rigorous period of training at the royal kraal, and after being 
formed into a new regiment they were regarded as being on 
probation until they had proved themselves in war, when they 
would be allowed to wear the head-ring and be permitted to 
marry. There was considerable rivalry among the regiments and 
the prestige of the crack regiments was very great; there was never 
any difficulty in recruiting volunteers from the lowest caste, the 
Lozwi or Holi, who were formed from the Shona-speaking in- 
habitants of the area. But command of the system was kept firmly 
in the hands of the superior caste, the Zansi, from whom virtually 
all regimental commanders and other officials were drawn. The 
system obviously depended upon continued military operations 
against the surrounding peoples in the form of the raids which we 
have already discussed. 

The area in which this system operated was a compact one. ‘The 
area of dense and permanent settlement’, write Hughes and Van 
Velsen, ‘was mostly confined to the flat country immediately to 
the north of the Zambesi-Limpopo watershed, and did not even 
extend very far from their original settlement at Intabas Induna. 
In the time of Lobengula there do not seem to have been more 
than a few permanent settlements more than about 30 or 40 miles 
from Bulawayo. It was therefore possible for nearly everyone in 
the kingdom ... to have frequent and regular contact with the 
capital.’ It was also possible for the king to pay regular visits to 
the regimental kraals. Within this compact area were some forty 
regimental towns, and an army of 15,000 to 20,000 men. 1 

1 Hughes and Van Velsen, op. cit. 


This formidable military system was not despised by the whites 
in the 1890s, as was Shona society, but it was bitterly hated by 
them, and hated as much for its self-confidence and self-sufficiency 
as for its brutality. The Ndebele system, though flexible enough 
to adapt itself to the needs of so heterogenous a society, was in 
many ways essentially conservative; whether in military tactics 
or agricultural methods it did not feel that it needed to learn from 
white men and it was animated by a pride in its own achieve- 
ments which whites felt as an intolerable arrogance. T abhor the 
Matabele,’ wrote Selous to his mother, and he was expressing the 
common feeling of almost all the hunters, traders and prospectors 
who had come into contact with the Ndebele state. Moreover this 
hatred was shared by the missionaries who had been working 
among the Ndebele in what Mr Brown has called c a thirty years’ 
quarantine’, tolerated and sometimes exploited but isolated and 
totally without influence on the people. ‘Their lack of success’, 
writes Brown of the missionaries, ‘made them natural, if qualified, 
supporters of Rhodes. Unlike their brethren in Nyasaland, they 
had been able to build up no vested interest to conflict with those 
of other Europeans.’ The missionaries had come to believe that 
Ndebele society presented no opportunities for development to- 
wards commerce and civilization, let alone Christianity, and they 
saw the Ndebele as a people ‘whose military system and caste 
tradition prevents the hope of their ever being brought, as a 
whole, into the circle of civilized nations’. Thus they frankly 
welcomed the arrival of white power in Mashonaland. ‘We are 
very thankful for the result,’ wrote Elliot and Carnegie of the 
London Missionary Society Matabeleland mission, congratulat- 
ing Rhodes on the successful occupation of Mashonaland. ‘The 
hateful Matabele rule is doomed. We as missionaries, with our 
thirty years’ history behind us, have little to bind our sympathies 
to the Matabele people, neither can we pity the fall of their 
power, but we earnestly rejoice in the deliverance of the Ma- 
shona.’ 1 

In what way did the missionaries expect Ndebele power to 
‘fall’ as a result of the occupation of Mashonaland? Not at first 
necessarily through war. The missionaries, and others, so hated 
Ndebele ideas of society, and were in contrast so confident of the 

1 Selous to his mother, 30 Apr. 1890, SE 1/1/1; Elliot and Carnegie to 
Rhodes, 2 Dec. 1890, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, Vol. C. 3A. 



evident superiority of European ideas, that they believed that 
there existed at least a potential opposition group within Mata- 
beleland itself and that the Ndebele state would be subverted by 
internal dissension as the example of the European way of life 
began to exert its influence. Thus Carnegie argued in his Among the 
Matabele that Lobengula himself constituted ‘the great obstacle to 
progress’, and that his rule was provoking discontent both among 
the ‘people’ and among the Zansi aristocracy. Carnegie argued 
that the Holi caste resented their obligations to serve their 
superiors and wished rather to seek work in the Transvaal or 
Mashonaland. ‘The disposition to work and be independent 
grows among the people.’ At the same time, he asserted, the more 
substantial indunas wished to accumulate property, engage in 
trade, develop land, acquire European goods such as ploughs, 
wagons and so forth, but were prevented from moving in this 
progressive direction by the king’s interdict on commerce, by the 
traditional system of land and cattle holding, and by the fear of 
attracting jealousy and denunciation for witchcraft as the result 
of too apparent prosperity. Other missionaries agreed with these 
assertions. J. S. Moffat, for instance, then a British official at 
Lobengula’s court, wrote in November 1890: ‘There are dis- 
integrating forces at work here the action of which is accelerated 
almost month by month. There is a continuous stream of work 
people between here and Johannesburg and a silent revolution is 
going on.’ The Reverend John Mackenzie argued that the open- 
ing up of the Mashonaland gold mines would accelerate this pro- 
cess and ‘alienate the Matabele men from their warlike and cruel 
ways. They would get good wages and would be able to go back 
to their people inside Matabeleland proper when they desired to 
do so. . . . In the course of time it would bring on a crisis; the 
Chief, perhaps with a majority, but not with all the tribe, would 
desire to remove rather than have his military power slowly under- 
mined. . . . But if, on the other hand, the Chief enjoyed his 
royalty payments, and with his headmen agreed that the gold 
mining was to them also a profitable thing, his power with his 
people as a military despot would gradually pass away, the cus- 
toms of the tribe would change, and the rest of the gold mines 
would eventually be opened up without any huge convulsion.’ 1 

1 D. Carnegie, Among the Matabele', Moffat to Colquhoun, 8 Nov. 1890, 
CT 1/1/5; R. Brown, op. cit. 



Thus it was believed that the Ndebele system might well break 
up as a result of pressures from within. Alternatively, after the 
occupation of Mashonaland it was believed with perhaps more 
reason that the restraints this placed on Ndebele raiding would 
provoke a crisis between the young warriors and the king. In 
1890 and 1891 there were constant speculations about the likeli- 
hood of a civil war in Matabeleland in which the Company could 
profitably intervene. Neither set of expectations was realized and 
by 1893 the missionaries were coming to believe that the forces 
for progress in Ndebele society were not strong enough to develop 
unless the military system were overthrown from outside. ‘Noth- 
ing now seems possible but to await new opportunities,’ wrote 
Carnegie. The kind of opportunities he was awaiting are made 
clear in a report by Captain Lendy of the Company police after 
a visit to Bulawayo and conversations with Carnegie in January 
1893. ‘It is amusing to hear the missionaries talk,’ wrote Lendy. 
‘Regular fire-brands, they admit that the sword alone will 
christianize the natives.’ Carnegie and his colleagues therefore 
supported the invasion of Matabeleland which came later in 1893 
and rejoiced in the overthrow of Lobengula. ‘We expect great 
things,’ wrote Carnegie. ‘Now is the grand opportunity of Christi- 
anizing the Matabele.’ 1 

The important thing to appreciate is that while the Company 
made use of the missionaries for its own ends, employing them to 
obtain a favourable press for the Matabele war, Company officials 
themselves shared these missionary beliefs. They too assumed 
after 1893, as an article of faith, that many of the Matabele wel- 
comed the overthrow of the old system and that the way had been 
opened for peaceful and progressive development. In the light of 
what we shall have to say about Company policy in Matabeleland 
in a later chapter, such a belief may well appear cynical but it was 
certainly genuinely if somewhat carelessly held. Affected by this 
general optimism, the High Commissioner’s representative re- 
ported to him in January 1894 that the Ndebele ‘seemed greatly 
relieved when told that the military system of the country had 
been abolished and that henceforth they were freed from all lia- 
bility to serve as fighting men. . . . All steps taken tended to the 
abolition of the Matabele military system and the substitution of 
the right of individuals to own land and cattle for the national 
1 Lendy’s report, 25 Jan. 1893, LO 5/2/26; Carnegie, op. cit. 



custom by virtue of which everything in the country was con- 
sidered the king’s property, and only lent to the inhabitants.’ The 
Holi, it was believed, welcomed a new freedom of movement and 
opportunity of choice of employment; the Zansi welcomed the 
new security of property right and opportunity to improve their 

Rhodes himself argued in January 1895 that there was a wide 
acceptance among the Ndebele of the superiority of the new 
system. ‘From a sentimental point of view,’ he told the share- 
holders of the Company, with a somewhat significant choice of 
words, T will say this — that I visited the territory the other day 
and saw nearly all the chiefs of the Matabele and I may say that 
they were all pleased and naturally so. In the past they have 
always “walked delicately” because anyone who got to any posi- 
tion in the country and became rich was generally “smelt out” 
and lost his life. You can understand,’ he told the sympathetic 
shareholders, ‘that life was not very pleasant under these con- 
ditions. In so far as the bulk of the people were concerned, they 
were not allowed to hold any cattle, or to possess anything of their 
own. Now they can hold cattle and the leaders of the people know 
that they do not walk daily with the fear of death over them.’ 
And even after the rising, Colenbrander, the first Chief Native 
Commissioner of Matabeleland, found himself able to argue that 
the Ndebele had been consciously better off under Company rule. 
‘It is better,’ he told the Bulawayo committee of inquiry in 
December 1896. ‘Then it was dangerous to become rich. . . . 
Under the Chartered Company rule they have proper trial. . . . 
Everything belonged to the King in early days; now a native can 
own property and his life is safe. . . . He can go and work while 
before the Ama Holi race could not go where they liked, every- 
thing they brought back from the fields had to be handed over 
to the Matabele.’ 1 

With these beliefs whites allowed themselves to be persuaded 
that the Ndebele had gladly submitted to their rule. ‘Since the 
war the Matabeles have never given the least trouble,’ wrote the 
missionary Helm in 1896. ‘The people have undergone a wonder- 
ful change since Lobengula’s time and were so submissive that 

1 Major Sawyer’s report, 16 Jan. 1894, C. ?2go, Enclosure in No. 95; Rhodes’ 
speech to the Fourth Ordinary General Meeting, 18 Jan. 1895; Colenbrander’s 
evidence, 3 Dec. 1896, C. 8547, appendix 7. 


anything in the nature of a revolt seemed out of the ques- 
tion.’ 1 

In making these estimates the Company’s officers and other 
whites were victims of a delusion as old as British interest in 
African development. Rhodes might well have written of Mashona- 
land and Matabeleland in the 1890s what Sir Joseph Banks wrote 
of West Africa in 1799: ‘A trading Company might be established 
under immediate control of the Government, who could take 
upon themselves the whole expense of the measure, would govern 
the Negros far more mildly and make them far more happy than 
they are now under the tyranny of their arbitrary princes, would 
become popular at home by converting them to the Christian 
religion by inculcating in their rough minds the mild morality 
which is engrafted on the tenets of our faith and by effecting the 
greatest practicable diminution of the Slavery of Mankind, upon 
the principles of natural justice and commercial benefit.’ But the 
inhabitants of Southern Africa no more than those of West 
Africa desired to be made more happy by being freed from the 
tyranny of their arbitrary princes. What Sir Phillip Magnus has 
written of the Sudan was true of the subjects of Lobengula and 
other Nguni monarchs; Lobengula, like the Khalifa, might seem 
to the whites c a brutal tyrant, but he effectively symbolized the 
nationalist aspirations of the peoples over whom he ruled. They 
had no desire to be liberated and showed themselves willing to die 
in their tens of thousands. . . . The sole argument which served 
to reconcile them to the acceptance of foreign rule was the over- 
whelming superiority of modern weapons.’ 2 

A recent example of the fallacious character of these white ex- 
pectations, which might have been borne in mind in the 1890s, 
was the failure of the British Government’s Zulu policy. In 1878 
the British had presented the Zulu King, Cetshwayo, with an 
ultimatum to the effect that he must abolish his military system, 
institute a proper system of trial by courts, and encourage his 
people in their agricultural pursuits. ‘So will the King have con- 
tented subjects.’ But as a recent authority on the Zulu under 
Cetshwayo has pointed out these demands were based on a total 

1 Statement by C. D. Helm, The Times, 2 Apr. 1896. 

2 Banks to Liverpool, 8 Sept. 1799, cited in R. Hallett, ‘The European ap- 
proach to the interior of Africa’, The Journal of African History, IV, 2, 1963; 
P. Magnus, Kitchener, London, 1958. 


4 I 

misconception. ‘No doubt it was believed that the Zulus would 
welcome this reform and so withdraw their support from the King. 
But such a belief showed an utter lack of understanding of the Zulu 
character, for the Zulus willingly submitted to certain hardships 
and disadvantages and were proud to belong to those great armies 
which had swept over the continent, vanquished all their enemies, 
and given them the reputation of being the greatest warriors 
among all the African races.’ 1 The ultimatum was followed by war 
with the Zulu nation. 

!T n exactly the same way white beliefs in the 1890s were based 
on ‘an utter lack of understanding’ of Ndebele character and of 
the history of the Ndebele stateTjRecent students of the Ndebele 
have agreed that so far from their system containing within itself 
inevitable sources of disintegration it was growing in strength 
until the arrival of the whites, and Mr Hughes has gone so far as 
to suggest that but for the colonial interruption the Ndebele and 
other Nguni peoples might have exercised an immense and shap- 
ing influence on the whole of southern African society. And once 
European pressures were experienced, these students stress, the 
Ndebele state proved ‘highly resistant’ to them. In a valuable 
paper Mr Brown has shown the unbroken success and prestige of 
the Ndebele system up to the 1890s; stressed that ‘of all the con- 
quest states resulting from the Nguni or Zulu revolution of the 
early nineteenth century, the Matabele state would appear to 
have gone furthest in solving the problem of assimilating con- 
quered peoples’; and pointed out that prior to the 1890s the 
Ndebele state had successfully survived ‘some serious challenges 
to its integrity’. Ndebele society was not broken up by the defeats 
it suffered at the hands of the Boers in 1837 and 1838, nor by the 
migrations which followed; its unity survived the death of Mzili- 
kazi and the disputed succession of Lobengula. What the whites 
encountered in the Ndebele state was not merely an obstinate 
tyrant clinging to outmoded ways but what J. S. Moffat called a 
‘social system still in its aboriginal vigour’ and despite the best 
efforts of missionaries, hunters, traders and concession seekers 
they failed to make much impact on Ndebele society until they 
fere able to overthrow it. ‘Matabele society was inherently un- 
suited to adapting easily to the incursion of European power in 


1 C. T. Binns, The Last £ulu King, London, 1963. 


the scramble for Africa,’ writes Mr Brown, ‘and it neither col- 
lapsed nor was transformed, but was swept aside.’ 1 

And after the defeat of 1893 the great majority of the Ndebele 
castes remained loyal to a system which had enabled them to feel 
pride in ‘the reputation of being the greatest warriors among all 
the African races’. Even if it had been true that the Company 
administration guaranteed private property rights, trial by regu- 
lar courts, and so on, this would have been quite beside the point. 
Even the majority of the Lozwi or Holi caste continued to feel 
themselves part of the Ndebele nation — ‘the extent of the political 
achievement’, writes Mr Brown, ‘in constructing this powerful 
and centralized state is indicated by there being today some three 
quarters of a million people in Southern Rhodesia who consider 
themselves to be Matabele — though, of course, having wider 
affiliations — and who speak Sindebele.’ So far from their com- 
placent belief that the old Ndebele system had passed away even 
from the loyalties of the people, whites in the 1890s would have 
done well to ponder the warning of Major Leonard of the Com- 
pany Police, who was afraid that his countrymen would once 
again undervalue an enemy. ‘It does not seem within the bounds 
r of common sense’, wrote Leonard, ‘to suppose that a nation of 
ferocious savages . . . will allow us quietly to take possession of a 
country which is virtually theirs by right of conquest without in 
any way resenting it. To imagine it even is a direct insult.’ And 
they might have applied to the years immediately after the 1893 
war the reflection which Leonard applied to the years immediately 
before it: ‘Talking of our old friend, the Matabele question, how 
quickly and how quietly it has died a natural death! — unnatural, 
I should say, or to be still more accurate, not death, but a tempor- 
ary relegation to a back seat, eventually to take the stalls, or even 
the boards, by storm.’ 2 

1 Hughes, op. cit. ; Brown, op. cit. 

2 A. G. Leonard, How we made Rhodesia, London, 1896. 

i. The Provinces of the Mwene Mutapa Confederacy at its 
height, c. 1500 a.d. ( based on a map by Donald Abraham). 

2. The Rozwi Confederacy at the height of its power, c. 1700 a.d. 
[based on a map by Roger Summers). 

8 S 

- 20*S 

3. Approximate areas of Ndebele settlement and of regular 
raiding and tribute collections c. 1830-c. 1890. 


Administration in Mashonaland, i8go— 6 

Upon these African societies we have described, the impact of 
British South Africa Company administration fell in the 1890s. 
Despite the deceptive manner of its appearance among the Shona 
in 1890, when the Shona paramounts regarded the pioneer 
settlers and Company police merely as a rather large trading and 
gold-seeking caravan which would go away or pass on and which 
would in any event not seek to exercise governmental powers, the 
British South Africa Company presented the African societies of 
Southern Rhodesia with a challenge more formidable than that 
faced by the other peoples of Central and East Africa at that time. 
Representing as it did the expansive energies of the South African 
economy and the private fortune and personal dreams of Cecil 
John Rhodes, the British South Africa Company could draw upon 
much greater resources both of capital and man-power than the 
other British and German Companies at work during this period. 
The Pioneer Column of 1890, the armies which shattered the 
Ndebele monarchy in 1893, were deployments of white power on 
a scale unrivalled anywhere else in East and Central Africa. A 
settler community existed from the very first moment of Company 
administration and it was a settler community upon which from 
the beginning in its role of prospectors, traders and farmers the 
prosperity of the new colony was designed to depend. Elsewhere 
in tropical Africa territories in the interior, relatively remote 
from the sea, remained undeveloped for decades, serving as re- 
serves of labour for the economies of the coastal areas. Elsewhere 
the grandiose projects for railways, canals, telegraphs advanced 
by the young adventurers whom Professor Brunschwig has des- 
cribed as ‘dreamers with empty hands’ collapsed through the 
disinterest of hard-headed capital. Rhodes, however, was a 
dreamer with full pockets. Despite all difficulties and especially 
his failure to gain access to the sea, Southern Rhodesia was 
developed at a quite unusual rate. The railway arrived in 
Bulawayo in 1897, only four years after the occupation of 


Matabeleland; it was with this vision of communications ex- 
tending further and further north and ending their isolation that 
Rhodes tempted his missionary collaborators in the interior. 
Rhodes, as Milner wrote in 1897, was ‘a great developer’. 

It was against this background of relative strength and ex- 
pansion that the white confidence which we have already des- 
cribed grew up. Feeling themselves strong, feeling themselves in 
touch with the South African colonies, whites in Rhodesia, 
whether settlers or administrators, did not pay that cautious re- 
spect to African military potential which characterized colonial 
regimes to the north. In so far as they were able to do so — and 
their strength was only comparative — they presented the implica- 
tions of colonial rule and of a settler economy to the Africans of 
Southern Rhodesia with no concessions at all. 

This strong white impulse met the African societies we have 
described, with their hidden strengths. One of the results was the 
outbreak of 1896 and the fierce contest between the two systems 
which followed. But the question remains: how far was such a 
contest inevitable in the face of Shona and Ndebele determination 
to defend their ‘way of life’? Or how far was it intensified, perhaps 
even provoked, by maladministration or by unwise pressure? 

Company and settler apologists, once they had recovered from 
their astonishment at the risings, argued that they had been in- 
evitable irrespective of the character of Company administration. 
The Shona, grumbled Selous, would have resented a government 
of archangels and made a determined effort to steal their harps. 
More soberly Lord Grey, Administrator of Southern Rhodesia 
during the risings, asserted that ‘universal experience in South 
Africa has proved that until the Kaffirs are convinced by failure 
that it is useless for them to try and struggle against the power of 
the white man, they will fret under his yoke and get rid of it if they 
can. . . . This being admitted, it would appear to be unnecessary 
to search for recondite causes of the rising in administrative 
mistakes’. 1 

In many ways this attitude, with its recognition of African 
determination to defend their ‘independence’, with its setting of 
the 1896 risings in the context of ‘the history of the Eastern 
Province’ of the Cape and of ‘frontier history’ generally, in the 
long sequence of ‘Kaffir wars and rebellions during close on half 

1 Lord Grey’s reply to Sir Richard Martin’s report, June 1897, C. 8547 . 


a century’, is closer to the truth than the arguments of the humani- 
tarians of the 1890s. It was not true, for instance, as the American 
critic of the Company, J. E. Y. Blake, asserted, that the Ndebele 
and Shona were ‘naturally servile and harmless’ and could only 
have been driven to fight by atrocious ill-treatment. Nor was it 
true, as the Aborigines Protection Society argued, that the 
African peoples of Southern Rhodesia were ‘submissive to the just 
laws of the country and were very tractable’. What was at issue 
in 1896 was an African repudiation of the white claim to make any 
laws at all. 1 

But if the philanthropists underestimated the desire of Africans 
for independence Company apologists undoubtedly underesti- 
mated also the important role played in the risings by the charac- 
ter of Company administration. After all, in other colonial 
situations African peoples devoted to their ‘way of life’ were 
sometimes brought to accept colonial rule through judicious con- 
cession; sometimes again the challenge to the way of life of some 
societies was made over so long a period of time that the power to 
resist was slowly sapped; and in some cases where resistance was 
offered it was offered only by members of the old ruling groups 
and did not involve the mass of the people, whose lives were often 
not much affected by colonial rule in its first years. The rapidity 
and above all the totality of African reaction in Southern Rhodesia 
cannot be explained merely in terms of a generalized will to resist, 
but must be explained also in terms of the peculiar pressure of 
Company rule. 

In fact the British Deputy Commissioner, Sir Richard Martin, 
stated the relationship between administration and resistance very 
fairly in his report on the causes of the 1896-7 risings. The Com- 
pany believed, wrote Martin, that ‘all heart had been knocked 
out of the natives, and that they were ... at liberty to impose 
what laws and place what exactions they thought fit upon them, 
without fear of retaliation’. Such a view defied ‘common pru- 
dence’ which suggested that the Company should use ‘every 
endeavour to conciliate the natives to their rule’. In reality 
Africans in Southern Rhodesia were determined to regain their 

1 Cape Argus, 12 Aug. 1897; Cape Times, 25 Oct. 1897; evidence of John 
Harris, 17 Dec. 1919, CMD. 1129. B. Southern Rhodesia: minutes of the proceed- 
ings of the Commission appointed to take account of what would have been due to the 
British South Africa company, 1921. 


independence. The only possible chance that the Government 
had of preventing this attempt to regain their lost position was the 
establishment of a strong and able Native administration and one 
which should have considered the conciliation and welfare of the 
Natives as the all important object to aim at.’ 1 

We must now ask why the Company failed to establish such a 
Native administration and what was, in fact, the character of its 
native policy. 

In 1893 Dr Jane Waterston, whom Rhodes’ most recent bio- 
graphers describe as ‘one of the few women who knew him well’, 
wrote a letter to Rhodes, expressing her hopes for the constructive 
use of his new power. ‘You are now virtually ruler of the natives 
from here to Tanganyika,’ she wrote, ‘a position that Providence 
has never assigned to any man before. Your brother, Mr Herbert 
Rhodes, had the peculiar gift for attracting and attaching black 
i men to himself that is sometimes given to Englishmen. I have an 
idea that if you were to exert it that gift is given to you. . . . Now, 
Sir, you have come to a point in your career where you never 
stood before. I plead for no sickly cant or sentiment but I do ask 
that you, who will shortly be known by the natives as “the Great 
White Chief will treat them as men with English justice, and 
wdl find out those that are really climbing out of the old state, and 
give them a fair field, if no favour. Strict justice and the word of 
the white chief his bond is the only way to rule the native aright. 

, ... It is surely something to be in history not only the great 
1 Englishman who saved us Central Africa but also the great chief 
that ruled the many thousands of natives wisely and well. The 
one you have done; the other you are capable of doing. May you 
be delivered from being one of those to whom the grandest oppor- 
tunities have been given by Providence and who have flung them 
I away.’ 2 

Something like these expectations were shared by some of 
I Rhodes associates. Lord Grey, for instance, expressed the view 
to Rhodes in December 1891 that ‘objectionable German methods’ 

1 must be avoided in Central Africa and that the chiefs must be 
persuaded that ‘the Queen has spread her wing over the country 

1 C. 8547. British South Africa company's territories: report by Sir R. E. R. Martin 
on the native administration of the British South Africa Company , together with a letter 
Bom the company commenting upon that report, 1892. 

2 Jane Waterston to Rhodes, ? 1893, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 27. 


not for the purpose of crushing them but with the view of helping 
the chiefs in the difficult work of self protection and development. 
I have always hoped that when the Natives outside that part of 
the map which by your energy has been coloured red, compare 

L our methods with those employed by Germany and the Congo 
Free State we should be able to get everything we want.’ 1 
At the least, negative expectations were expressed, as in Shep- 
stone’s letter to Rhodes in May 1891. ‘I always feared that the 
Chartered Company’s territory would become the prey of white 
adventurers forming centres of petty independent sovereignties, 
amenable to nothing and guided by nothing but their own special 
ambitions and interests. . . . Your Company is amenable to the 
British Government and to British public opinion, so that what- 
ever mistakes it may make, it cannot go radically wrong, and this 
is what makes me anxious for its success.’ 2 

In the event all these expectations were disappointed. So far 
from the Ndebele and Shona having a firm impression of ‘strict 
justice and the word of the white chief his bond’, they bitterly 
resented what they regarded as a long history of sharp practice 
and arbitrary action. So far from Africans outside the Company’s 
territories looking to them as a model, Africans within them broke 
out in 1896 and 1897 into desperate and savage rebellions which 
profoundly and adversely affected relations between black and 
white throughout southern Africa. So far from restraining the 
individual ‘ambitions and interests’ of white adventurers and 
settlers the Company allowed these a very free hand, and despite 
the control of the British government and British public opinion 
went very ‘radically wrong’ in the Jameson Raid and many other 
ways. Why was this? 

Our answer must start with Cecil Rhodes himself, since he more 
than anyone or anything shaped the attitudes and policies of the 
early Rhodesian administration. It was Rhodes who enjoyed the 
complete trust of the London Board of the Company and was 
given their full power of attorney to act in Rhodesia; it was he 
who insisted on the appointment as Administrator there of a man 
‘conversant not only with the internal history of the Company 
and the native affairs of the North, but also one who for the last 
five years has had the closest personal relations with himself and 

1 Grey to Rhodes, 25 Dec. 1891, ibid., C. 3 A. 

2 Shepstone to Rhodes, 8 May 1891, ibid. 


5 1 

is therefore imbued with his views and aims in the North’; and 
through Jameson, thus appointed, it was Rhodes’ views and aims 
which prevailed. What, then, were Rhodes’ views on the ‘Native 
Question’? 1 

Rhodes’ biographers have disputed as to whether he regarded 
Africans as children or as animals, as potential men or predestined 
objects. In fact the most important thing about Rhodes’ views and 
aims was that he did not really pay much regard to Africans at all. 
He had, of course, to deal with Khama and Lewanika and with 
i Lobengula before 1893 and while they were in a position to affect 
his ‘views and aims’ he devoted a good deal of time and care to 
persuading them or compelling them to pursue the courses he 
desired. But even then the exercise was an abstract one. Despite 
Lobengula’s wish, Rhodes never met the Ndebele monarch per- 
1 sonally and there was little opportunity to test whether Rhodes 
: had the intuition and sympathy to understand an African point 
of view when he came into contact with it or whether he possessed 
! his brother’s gifts of ‘attracting and attaching black men to him- 
self’ until the rising had broken out. Then, in the famous Matopos 
indaba, which is described below, Rhodes showed that Dr Water- 
: ston’s estimate of him had not been entirely wrong; but by then 
it was too late. And once Rhodes had gained his point in his rela- 
: tions with these African monarchs he ceased to occupy his mind 
i with consideration of their subjects. After 1893, for instance, it did 
: not occur to Rhodes that the Ndebele were any longer a factor 
I which had to be taken into account in adumbrating his plans for 
. the north, and he never supposed that the Shona were. Once 
;l Mashonaland was occupied and Matabeleland conquered 
[ Rhodes felt no need to evolve any continuous native policy or to 

■ erect any regular machinery of native administration. It was 

■ typical of him that he employed a Native Commissioner in 1890 to 
: assist in the negotiations with Mutassa of Manyika and with king 
1 Gungunhana, but that Native Commissioners in the normal sense 
) of officers appointed to regulate and protect the Shona peoples were 
►( not appointed until the end of 1894, and even then only because 
r: some machinery was needed for the collection of the hut tax. 2 

Such a carelessness may well seem astonishing. Rhodes was 

1 Harris to London Board, 1 Dec. 1890, LO 5/2/5. 

2 See, T. O. Ranger, ‘The Last Word on Rhodes? 5 , Past and Present, No. 28, 

[I July 1964. 



assisted in feeling it because of his willing belief in the general 
white illusions already described. When he thought of the subject 
at all he believed that the Shona and the Ndebele ‘were all 
pleased and naturally so’ by the arrival of the whites; that in the 
white opening up of Rhodesia the Shona had incidentally been 
delivered from the Ndebele and the Ndebele had incidentally 
been delivered from themselves. He would have defended himself 
against liberal attack on these lines though certainly these results 
were very much incidentals rather than essentials of his great 
designs. As for the future Rhodes believed that if Africans were 
capable of taking advantage of the new opportunities their society 
would be transformed; if not they would go to the wall. His views 
were a mingling of the classic doctrines of Laisser Faire and the 
Survival of the Fittest. 

Rhodes’ neglect of the necessity of establishing ‘a strong and 
able Native administration and one which should have considered 
the conciliation and welfare of the Natives as the all important 
object’ arose also out of his dislike for the forms of regular ad- 
ministration. A percipient member of the Mashonaland police 
noted in 1891 that Rhodes’ alter ego , Jameson, regarded regular 
officers as machines ‘evolved out of an amalgamation of red-tape 
and sealing wax’, and commented: ‘Jameson does not believe in 
excessive formality but in attaining the object by the nearest and 
quickest method; and it would take very little to induce either 
Rhodes or himself, should the occasion present itself, or the 
emergency arise, to ride rough-shod over forms or amenities and 
rules or regulations’. It was precisely for this quality in Jameson 
that Rhodes insisted that he be made Administrator in place of 
the first appointee, Colquhoun, of whom Rhodes wrote dis- 
paragingly that he would make ‘an admirable official with regard 
to departmental details and to the organization of the Company’s 
procedure’. With Colquhoun’s departure any chance of the 
erection of a regular and satisfactory administrative system in 
Rhodesia was lost. Jameson’s government of the whites was thus 
described by a settler lawyer in 1896: ‘He may be regarded as 
simply a beneficent despot; he did not act on rules and regula- 
tions; he acted as each individual case led him; he did his best.’ 
His government of the African peoples was even more haphazard. 1 

1 Leonard, op. cit; Harris to London Board, 1 Dec. 1890, LO 5/2/5; evidence 
of Robert Hovell, 8 Dec. 1896, C. 8547. 


In any case it was not with matters of ‘departmental detail’ that 
Rhodes and Jameson were concerned but with their far-ranging 
and ambitious aims for the north. To them Mashonaland, and 
later Matabeleland, were merely bases from which to launch 
further assaults. There was little time or money to spare for build- 
ing up the base itself; all attention was given to reaching Beira and 
the sea, or acquiring Gazaland, or pushing north to Barotseland, 
or establishing rights in Bechuanaland, or overthrowing the 
Kruger regime in the Transvaal. ‘Rhodes is a great developer,’ 
wrote Milner in 1897, ‘but he is not a good administrator.’ What 
in fact Rhodes was above all was a great gambler — the sending 
in of the ill-prepared and ill-led Pioneer Column in 1890 was a 
gamble; the concentration on the push to the sea despite the 
threat of Ndebele action in the rear was a gamble; the Ndebele 
war of 1893 was a gamble; so supremely was the Jameson Raid 
of 1895. And so was Rhodes’ failure to build up a Native Depart- 
ment to control and conciliate the African peoples of Rhodesia. 
It was, of course, an unsuccessful gamble for which the price was 
paid in 1896. 1 

Rhodes’ errors in this field were both of commission and 
omission. As we shall see he was unscrupulous in the methods by 
which he destroyed the Ndebele state and unjust in the treatment 
of the Ndebele over land and cattle after their conquest. But 
above all his error was one of omission. However lightly he wore 
his belief that white settlement was also for the good of the 
Africans, Rhodes did not will or institute deliberate policies of 
brutality towards them. But because of his convenient conviction 
that all would be well without any effort on the part of the Com- 
pany, because of his diversion of most of his resources and nearly 
all his talented men into other ventures; because of his consequent 
dependence upon the farmer and settler in Rhodesia itself, a 
situation inevitably arose in which the African peoples were not 
merely unconciliated but also abused and maltreated. ‘The blacks 
have been scandalously used,’ wrote Milner. ‘A lot of unfit 
people,’ he alleged, ‘were allowed to exercise power, or at any 
rate did exercise it, especially with regard to the natives.’ Rhodesia 
had become after all not far from ‘the prey of white adventurers’. 
Rhodes chose to ignore this and in this respect as in many others 

1 Milner to Selborne, 2 June 1897, The Milner Papers, ed. C. Headlam, 
London, 1931, Vol. 1, pp. 105-8. 


the judgement of history will certainly have to be that he was ‘one 
of those to whom the grandest opportunities have been given by 
Providence and who have flung them away’. 1 

To give these generalizations more particularity and to show 
how the settler ‘man on the spot’ was allowed to dominate 
‘native affairs’ we must examine administration first in Mashona- 
land and then in Matabeleland. 

In fairness to Rhodes and to the officers of the Company it must 
be admitted that the task of building up an administration in 
Mashonaland was greatly complicated by the attitude of the 
British Government. That Government was prepared to recognize 
the right of the Company to send men into Mashonaland and to 
work mines there, though in defiance of the wishes of Lobengula, 
but it was not prepared to recognize that the Company possessed 
any powers of administration even over whites, let alone over the 
Shona. In September 1890 the Colonial Office made it plain to 
the London Board of the Company that ‘the Company has not 
received from Lobengula any authority to exercise such sovereign 
rights as are implied by setting up courts of justice, imposing fines 
and penalties, declaring what acts shall constitute crimes or 
offences and attaching penalties to such acts’. Until such time as 
the Ndebele king granted specific authority to exercise such 
sovereign rights the Company was debarred from doing so. This 
was, of course, a perfectly accurate reading of the powers ceded 
by Lobengula in the Rudd Concession, on which the Company’s 
claim to enter Mashonaland was based. But it was an absurdity 
in practical terms. It was highly unreasonable to suppose that 
large numbers of white men could enter Mashonaland without 
creating all sorts of problems of jurisdiction and if the Company 
were debarred from exercising authority over them, or over the 
Shona, it was inevitable that they would become a law unto 
themselves. 2 

This British refusal to approve the exercise of judicial powers 
was merely one of the factors which made the first Administrator, 

1 Milner to Chamberlain, 1 Dec. 1897; Milner to Asquith, 18 Nov. 1897, 
ibid., pp. 139 to 146, 177. 

2 Colonial Office to London Board, 16 Sept. 1890, LO 8/3/1; for a full 
discussion of the legal situation in Mashonaland during the first year of Com- 
pany administration see, Claire Palley, The Constitutional History and Law of 
Southern Rhodesia, 1888-1965, Oxford, 1966, chap. 3. 



Colquhoun, and the commander of the police, Pennefather, so 
uneasy with the position in which they found themselves. Both 
were men temperamentally unsuited to the gamble upon which 
they were engaged; both desired to establish things in Mashona- 
land on what they regarded as a proper footing before going on 
with any more of Rhodes’ plans. Colquhoun wanted more clerks 
and administrators; Pennefather wanted more police. ‘Isn’t it 
absurd?’ wrote Rutherfoord Harris, the Company’s Kimberley 
secretary, when Pennefather demanded more men to meet all his 
commitments in January 1891. ‘He pictures us having to face 
(1) Loben, (2) Portuguese, (3) Boers, (4) Gungunhana, all 
simultaneously, but as I have written and told him, we cannot 
raise troops for the deluge.’ The invaluable Jameson was asked 
‘to instil some of his strong common sense, coupled with “balls”, 
into him.’ 1 

But if Harris thought Pennefather a ‘Cassandra. Troublesome 
officer’, and quarrelled violently with Colquhoun because on 
matters of importance correspondence tended to be sent direct 
from Kimberley to Jameson rather than to the ‘red-tape’ minded 
Administrator, there was much more to be said for their view than 
either Harris or Rhodes were prepared to concede. Something 
certainly needed to be done to put Company administration in 
Mashonaland in order, especially with regard to ‘native affairs’. 
On this Colquhoun and Pennefather put forward suggestions 
which, if followed, might have given some sort of basis of local 
consent and acceptance of the Company presence in Mashona- 
land. Impressed, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, with 
the evidence that Lobengula had not exercised any sort of effective 
jurisdiction over large areas of Mashonaland, they urged the 
necessity of making treaties with numbers of ‘independent’ Shona 
chiefs. Several such treaties were made, promising the central and 
eastern Shona paramounts an annual subsidy in return for 
mineral rights in their paramountcies. Moreover they urged that 
if the Company wished to exclude the Portuguese from eastern 
and central Mashonaland, it should be prepared to meet the cost 
of providing an alternative system of trade to replace the old com- 
merce with Tete. ‘All the natives who have been accustomed to 
trade with the Portuguese are protesting loudly that we have no 
stuff to barter with them,’ wrote Pennefather to Rhodes in April 

1 Harris to Currey, 3 Jan. 1891, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 3A. 


1891, ‘and that as we have driven the Portuguese out of the 
country they cannot now do any trade. There is no doubt that 
much more money must be spent if we are going to keep that 
country — but it would be well spent, and good returns might soon 
be got from it.’ 1 

Neither of these suggestions met with any support from Rhodes. 
His view was that the Company’s claim to Mashonaland rested 
on Lobengula’s concession and on the British Government’s 
acceptance that Lobengula’s authority ran in the whole province; 
hence whatever the real situation the independence of Shona 
paramounts could not be recognized. As Harris expressed it in a 
letter to Colquhoun: ‘You will yourself understand surely that 
everything included within the area assigned to the British south 
of the Zambesi is based on the recognition of Lobengula being 
supreme, and despite everything that Selous or anyone else says 
to the contrary, politically Lobengula and Lobengula alone has 
been and will be recognized, so that it is impolitic as well as useless 
to waste time and money on so called “independent Mashona 
chiefs”; an independent Mashonaland is an impossibility within 
the sphere assigned to the British but outside that sphere an 
independent Mashonaland and independent Mashona chiefs 
ought to commence exactly where the British sphere ends, and 
there it may flourish like a green bay tree.’ Thus the treaties made 
with Makoni, Mtoko, Mangwende and the other paramounts 
were allowed to lapse; no subsidies were paid; and in future it was 
assumed that rights to minerals, and then rights to land, had been 
granted by the remote Ndebele monarch whose authority these 
chiefs had never recognized. This was one reason, certainly, for 
their hostility to the Company. 2 

Moreover, Rhodes had no intention of establishing a trade with 
the central and eastern Shona in alluvial gold; his interest was 
exclusively in the opening up of mining by white prospectors, 
which he thought would bring prospects of employment to the 
Shona that would more than make up for the loss of their trade 
with the Portuguese. Later, under Jameson, steps were taken 
to try to prevent the renewal of the trade with Tete, which was 
held to result in a drain of gold from the country. There is no 
doubt that this interference with a long-established and valued 

1 Pennefather to Rhodes, 20 Apr. 1891, ibid. 

2 Harris to Colquhoun, 20 Sept. 1890, CT 1/1/4. 


commerce was another factor in African hostility to the new 

Since these suggestions were countermanded or disapproved, 
there was in the end virtually no native policy during Colqulioun’s 
administration. Forbidden the exercise of judicial powers, he was 
too much of a stickler for form to venture on any unauthorized 
display of authority over black or white. The result, as Shona 
chiefs clashed with the prospectors and traders, was inevitably the 
growth of private ‘justice’. One example will suffice. In March 
1891 one Hudson of the Bechuanaland Exploration Company 
wrote to Colquhoun to report that as a result of theft from his 
stores in Mazoe he had raided the kraal of one of Goredema’s 
headmen, burnt his huts, and exacted a fine of five cattle. ‘It was 
common knowledge,’ he told Colquhoun, ‘that you had refused 
to give redress or in any way take notice of the alleged thieving 
on more than one occasion by a white man from white men, 
asserting that there was no law in this country; that you had in a 
similar way refused assistance when asked to recover goods and 
property as stolen by natives from white men and had asserted 
that you had no authority and could not protect white men and 
their property; that you had refused to give official or other sanc- 
tion to the flogging of a native for theft or gross misconduct 
alleging that you could not.’ Under these circumstances, con- 
cluded Hudson, ‘I think when you come to consider the numerous 
thefts that have been committed in this country by the Mashonas 
upon white men I am sure you will agree with me that I was only 
doing my duty to my syndicate.’ Colquhoun did not agree — ‘the 
steps taken were highly improper’, he minuted — but Hudson’s 
syndicate was managed by Major Frank Johnson, leader of the 
Pioneers, and nothing could be done to call him to account for 
taking the law into his own hands. Undoubtedly other whites 
were doing the same thing in other areas of Mashonaland. 1 

In July 1891 Colquhoun was replaced by Jameson. Ironically 
the bureaucrat left and the gambler came in just as steps were 
being taken to regularize the position of the Administrator and to 
allow him to exercise a limited jurisdiction. The need for some 
kind of control over the white population of Mashonaland was 
becoming obvious — without it, wrote the High Commissioner, 

1 Hudson to Colquhoun, 21 Mar. 1891; Colquhoun’s minute, 26 Mar. 1891, 

: CT1/1/6. 


‘the place would become an Alsatia and a disgrace to civiliza- 
tion’. It was becoming equally obvious that Lobengula would 
never make a grant of judicial powers to the Company. In May 
1891, then, the British Government issued an Order in Council 
declaring a Protectorate over Mashonaland and other areas. The 
High Commissioner was to exercise ‘all powers and jurisdiction 
which Her Majesty . . . had or may have within the limits of this 
Order, and particularly from time to time by proclamation to 
provide for the administration of justice, the raising of revenue, 
and generally for the peace, order and good government of all 
persons within the limits of this Order’, saving the rights of native 
rulers. He was, as it soon transpired, to exercise these powers in 
support of and by deputation to the Company administration. 
Judicial officers were to be appointed by him on the Company’s 
recommendation; legislation by proclamation would only occur 
when it seemed necessary to validate the Ordinances of the Com- 
pany. In 1919 the Privy Council commented upon the pecu- 
liarities of the legal situation thus created. Administration in 
Mashonaland between June 1891 and the Ndebele War of 1893, 
they wrote, rested ‘on the assumption of jurisdiction by the Crown 
within the territorial sovereignty of a native ruler, and yet subject 
to the recognition of his rights as such’. This situation was, as the 
Privy Council judicial committee remarked, ‘inappropriate’ to 
anything but ‘a nascent settlement’. But it allowed for the appoint- 
ment of magistrates for Mashonaland and on June 27th 1891 such 
officers were named for Fort Victoria, Fort Salisbury, Hartley 
Hill and Umtali. Later in the year another apparent move to a 
more regular system of government was taken. Colonel Penne- 
father then went the same way as Colquhoun and Jameson cut 
down heavily on the numbers of police, substituting what he called 
a ‘civil’ administration for the previous ‘military’ one. 1 

Neither of these events did much to improve African administra- 
tion. For one thing the British Government made it clear to the 
High Commissioner that he should ‘confine the exercise of autho- 
rity and the application of law, as far as possible, to whites, 
leaving the Native Chiefs and those living under their tribal 
authority almost entirely alone’, since ‘the extent of jurisdiction 
exercisable by Her Majesty over the natives has not yet been 

1 In the Privy Council, Special Reference as to the ownership of the Unalienated Land 
in Rhodesia, 29 July 1918; C. Palley, op. cit., chaps. 4 and 5. 



accurately defined’. This instruction was forwarded to the Com- 
pany by the Imperial Secretary who wrote in June 1891 that 
despite the new magistracies ‘the natives and native chiefs should 
be left to follow their own laws and customs without interference 
from the officers of the administration’. Jameson disregarded this 
injunction when it suited him to do so but no doubt it coincided 
with his own inclinations to prevent the emergence of any regular 
system of native administration. 1 

For another thing there were very few magistrates and those 
that there were were often enough more representative of local 
white feeling or of one particular settler interest than they were 
loyal servants of the Company. The first magistrate of Umtali, 
Bruce, was described by his successor in a scathing letter of March 
1892 as the chosen leader of the ‘drunken’ and ‘caddish’ white 
society of Umtali, as bitterly hostile to the Company, and as 
tolerant of settler sharp practice with regard to African labour. 
In Melsetter the first magistrate was the formidable Dunbar 
Moodie, leader of the Afrikaaner trek to that area. His use of his 
powers was later described by the Surveyor-General. ‘Dunbar 
Moodie got himself recognized as the Company’s representative 
and began charging incomers £7 ioj - ., afterwards ■£ 10 i8j\, 
afterwards £15, for permission to settle and peg out. . . . Longden 
reports that he got altogether near £4000 in this way. . . . He 
squeezed the best cattle out of those who could not give money 
and he managed to confiscate the farms of some. . . . He fined 
Kaffirs for his own benefit.’ He also forced Africans living on his 
very extensive farms to work for him. When in 1897 the Moodie 
family was compelled by a newly vigilant administration to sur- 
render the land which they had illicitly acquired over and above 
the amount originally granted to them by the Company, Rhodes 
intervened in a way which characteristically demonstrated his 
preference for development over administration. He hoped, he 
wrote, that the Moodies would be treated generously, ‘for they 
undoubtedly created the settlement of Melsetter and held the 
country against the Portuguese’. Rhodes’ approach had been that 
prevailing before 1896; under Jameson’s administration no one 
was much inclined to ask questions about the treatment of Africans 
from successful developers like Dunbar Moodie. 2 

1 Imperial Secretary to Secretary, Kimberley, 5 June 1891, LO 5/2/9. 

2 Orpen to Rhodes, 10 Sept. 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1; 



As for the creation of the ‘civil’ regime at the end of 1891, the 
main effect of this was to make Jameson even more dependent 
upon the settlers. If the expensive police had been replaced by 
numbers of trained judicial officers and district commissioners the 
change might have inaugurated a new efficiency of administra- 
tion. But there was no question of such a replacement for the main 
reason for the change was a desperate need of economy. On 
December nth 1891, for instance, Jameson received c a strictly 
private line’ from the Secretary of the Company in Cape Town 
telling him ‘that it is simply imperative that we must economize all 
along the line. If you can possibly do with less than 75 policemen 
for goodness sake do so, as they each cost nearly £300 p.a.’ On 
December 18th he was told that ‘the Bank will not advance 
another shilling. . . . Rhodes has got an awful sickener of the 
police. They are horribly expensive and do nothing but grumble. 
They must be reduced to a minimum. . . . Mr Rhodes would like 
you to sweep away entirely the military regime; give each Magis- 
trate 10 policemen and then run the show as a civil administration 
pure and simple.’ * 1 

Jameson dutifully carried out these economies but, as he wrote 
in January 1892, the small forces of police retained in the main 
towns could not possibly cope with the problems arising out of the 
contact of Africans and Europeans throughout Mashonaland. ‘In 
view of the recent disbandment of the military police,’ he wrote, 
‘I would point out that the immediate appointment of Field 
Cornets is imperative, taking into account the numbers of native 
disputes and other slight troubles constantly occurring over a very 
wide area and the impossibility with our small civil police force 
(quite sufficient for ordinary police duties) of constantly sending 
out parties to inquire into these matters. These Field Cornets with 
the burghers in their several districts would, in the event of an 
emergency, be under the command of the Commandant of the 
burgher force . . . but will at the same time keep this office sup- 
plied with information as to all events occurring in their district.’ 
Thus Jameson was proposing both for emergency defence and for 
the day to day settlement of disputes with the Shona to rely upon 

Rhodes to Milton, 20 Sept. 1897, ibid., Mss. Afr. s. 227, Vol. 1; Graham to 
Caldecott, 6 Mar. 1892, J 1/7/1. 

1 Currey to Jameson, 11 Dec. and 18 Dec. 1891, A 1/2/2. 


the settlers of Mashonaland. He recommended as Field Cornet 
of the Salisbury area one ‘Marriott, an old Colonial Farmer with 
a large family who has about fifteen of his friends farming in the 
same district’. Other appointments were made on the same lines. 
In this way the involvement in African affairs of the local white 
farmer and prospector was taken into the official system and 
legitimized rather than restrained. 1 

There is a good deal of evidence to show us this system at work 
between 1891 and 1894. Matters of theft, labour desertion, etc., 
were sometimes dealt with on the spot by local farmers and 
traders acting as ‘burghers’ under the command of the Field 
Cornet. Thus we see, for instance, Marriott, a month after his 
appointment as Field Cornet of the Salisbury area, taking nine of 
his relatives and friends together with four policemen to deal with 
paramount chief Mashonganyika, whose people were suspected 
of theft, or MacDowall, the Field Cornet of the Rusape area, re- 
covering stolen goods from a kraal in September 1893, and dis- 
tributing ten goats seized from the offenders in lieu of pay to the 
two burghers who had assisted him. Sometimes individual whites 
would take action under a temporary commission. Thus the 
American, ‘Curio’ Brown, tells us that he ‘was made a Special 
Constable by the Chief of Police for the purpose of arresting a 
native named Wambe, who had stolen some blankets from me’. 
And sometimes whites would take action without any commission 
at all. Thus in September 1892 a prospector in the Victoria area, 
one Short, set off with his workmen to arrest a certain Maseri, 
who was said to have assaulted one of the mine workers. The 
‘arrest’ was resisted; Short was shot at and wounded; and in 
return killed his assailant with his revolver. No action was taken 
by the central authorities against Short; the Magistrate of Fort 
Victoria reported that ‘the sympathies of the surrounding natives 
were entirely with Mr Short’; certainly his own were. 2 

But white involvement in Shona life was not restricted to these 
punitive occasions. As we shall see labour was pressed, and stock 
sometimes seized. Moreover, white farmers and traders became 

1 Jameson to Acting Secretary, Cape Town, n Jan. i8g2, LO 5/2/17; a 
list of those appointed as Field Cornets is in LO 5/2/22. 

2 Hole’s report, 1 Feb, 1892, LO 5/2/17; MacDowall to Hole, 9 and 15 
Sept. 1893, DS 1/1/1; W. H. Brown, On the South African Frontier , New York, 
1899; Chaplin to Public Prosecutor, 28 Sept. 1892, J 1/8/1. 



involved in the settlement of disputes among the Shona them- 
selves. One of the early settlers in the Victoria district tells us that 
‘natives who had quarrels with other natives conceived the idea 
of taking their complaints to white traders or farmers and offering 
to pay them if they would settle them in their favour. These dis- 
putes were usually for the recovery of cattle paid in lobola. . . . 
The aggrieved party would come and present his case to the white 
man and make him an offer of goats or sheep or a percentage of 
the cattle he claimed, when recovered by the white man. These 
tempting offers were eagerly sought by farmers and traders, the 
former wishing to start cattle farming.’ In default of an organized 
department for African administration there was no way of pre- 
venting this. 1 

Some examples of the abuses that resulted may be given from 
the Victoria area itself. In April 1892, for instance, the Victoria 
Interpreter, J. S. Brabant, who was the nearest thing to an expert 
on the Shona in the Company service, reported that ‘while 
travelling among the natives I found that they looked upon the 
Europeans farming up there as sorts of magistrates from whom I 
found out they got redress in minor offences. Seeing none of these 
men can speak the language continual rows are bound to occur.’ 
Brabant discovered also that some whites were actively interven- 
ing in inter and intra tribal disputes. In April 1892 he reported 
that a local farmer had assisted chief ‘Gungubo’ to raid chief 
‘Maromo’, to burn his kraal and to carry off his cattle, and that 
he had been given some of the captured beasts as the price of his 
assistance. In July 1892 Brabant found that rival claimants to the 
Goto chieftainship were being supported by local whites and that 
they had raided the current paramount and seized his cattle. 
Brabant was assaulted when he went to investigate the matter, 
and later the unruly claimants even fired on a police patrol sent 
to restore order. 2 

In this case the central administration had become involved in 
an intra-tribal dispute, stimulated by local white activity. More 
often the Administrator and his police were obliged to act because 
a major dispute had arisen between the whites and a Shona chief 
or his people, too serious to be dealt with on the spot. In their 

1 Weale’s reminiscences, WE 3/2/6. 

2 Brabant to Magistrate, Victoria, 26 Apr. 1892, Ai/9/1; Jameson to 
Harris, 15 July, 1892, CT 1/15/2. 


punitive and ‘judicial’ activities the white farmers, traders and 
prospectors took extreme risks. They worked on the principle, the 
American adventurer, ‘Curio’ Brown, tells us that ‘the Mashonas 
cannot conceive of bravery unless there is power behind it’, and 
the experience that ‘when one or two men present a bold front, 
these natives will often desist from violence, believing that a large 
force may be lying concealed in the bushes near at hand’. After a 
number of successful encounters with larger numbers of armed 
Shona, Brown came to ‘fancy myself almost invulnerable’; and it 
was the general rule of white conduct to behave as if they were in 
fact invulnerable. This supreme self-confidence was the means 
adopted by the whites to off-set their overwhelming numerical 
inferiority. But inevitably occasions arose when whites proved 
only too vulnerable; when a kraal resisted and whites were hurt 
or killed. Such instances threatened, it was believed, the collapse 
of the whole system. What Mrs Huxley has written of a Kenya 
settler family was felt by all whites in Mashonaland. ‘Respect was 
the only protection available to Europeans who lived singly, or 
in scattered families, among thousands of Africans accustomed to 
constant warfare and armed with spears and poisoned arrows. . . . 
This respect preserved them like an invisible coat of mail or a 
form of magic, and seldom failed; but it had to be very care- 
fully guarded. The least rent or puncture might, if not im- 
mediately checked, split the whole garment asunder and expose 
its wearer in all his human vulnerability. Kept intact it was a 
thousand times stronger than all the guns and locks and metal 
in the world; challenged, it could be brushed aside like a spider’s 
web.’ 1 

Jameson’s administration fully recognized its obligation to 
maintain the armour of respect, the cloak of invulnerability. Its 
only major activity in the field of ‘native affairs’ arose out of this 
obligation. As Rutherfoord Harris put it, somewhat under-playing 
the active interference of the whites with Shona society, ‘I feel 
sure the Board will not forget the feelings of the population at 
Salisbury — hundreds of whom are accustomed to scatter over the 
country in small parties or even singly, prospecting and pegging 
out claims, and if it is not made evident to the few turbulent, 
thieving kraals that a white man’s life, even if alone, is sacred, I 
feel sure there would be a great increase in the number of cases 
1 W. H. Brown, op. cit; E. Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika, 1959. 



. . . where murder of the unprotected white prospector would 
take place for the sake of his blankets and goods. 5 1 

The need to demonstrate the sacredness of a white man’s life 
led to the notorious police patrols of 1892, the best known in- 
cidents of Jameson’s conduct of ‘native affairs’. These patrols 
exhibited to the full the characteristic qualities of police inter- 
vention under Jameson — severity and imprecision. Entering an 
area of which they were ignorant, with a general mandate to im- 
press the local Africans with a show of strength, the police were 
not too particular about where the impact of their action fell or 
how heavily. We may briefly describe two of the patrols made in 
support of the local white position to illustrate these generaliza- 

In February 1892 a French trader was killed near Wata’s Hill 
in the Mazoe district under circumstances which remained un- 
known. A patrol was sent out under Captains Graham and Lendy 
to apprehend the supposed murderer, chief Chirimuzimba. They 
found his kraal deserted, so ‘having no idea as to the whereabouts 
of the offender’, Graham decided ‘to take action’ against other 
kraals in the neighbourhood, some of which he burnt. Then, 
having eventually captured Chirimuzimba, he made his way back 
to Salisbury. On the way, however, he stopped to deal with chief 
Goredema, on the grounds that some of Goredema’s men had 
guided the murdered man to Wata’s Hill, and that there were a 
‘vast number of complaints lodged by prospectors and others 
against Goredema’s people for theft’. This was the kind of action 
that Hudson had demanded but not received from Colquhoun in 
1891. Goredema’s kraal was surrounded and assaulted; six of his 
men were killed and three wounded; and the kraal was burnt. 
This drastic action was defended by Jameson on the grounds that 
‘there were numerous complaints of the impertinent and threaten- 
ing attitudes of the natives in that district and in the Mazoe 
region but no distinct charge could be dealt with until the murder 
of Guerold’. 2 

The month after an even more severe taste of white power was 
given. This originated from an incident similar to hundreds of 
others. A white trader, one Bennet, believed that some of his 

1 Harris to Secretary, London Office, 1 June 1892, LO 5/2/19. 

2 Affidavit by Lovemore, 1 Feb. 1892; Graham’s report, 12 Feb. 1892, 
CT 1 /i 5/4; Jameson’s report, 1 June 1892, CT 1/15/7. 


goods had been stolen by men from the kraal of Ngomo, a head- 
man of paramount chief Mangwende. Bennet, like many others 
before him, went to Ngomo’s kraal to recover his goods. But this 
was one occasion on which the white man was not invulnerable; 
Ngomo refused to let Bennet search his kraal and there followed 
‘an altercation in which Bennet and his boy were repeatedly 
struck by natives’. Captain Lendy was sent out from Salisbury to 
investigate; he found Mangwende unwilling or unable to disci- 
pline his headman and Ngomo still defiant. When he returned to 
Salisbury for further instructions, Jameson told him ‘to take sum- 
mary measures’. Lendy did so; he returned to the area with a 
strong patrol of police, maxim guns and a seven pounder. They 
surrounded Ngomo’s kraal and attacked it at dawn on March 
1 7th. ‘A well directed shot from the 7 pounder was the signal for 
the firing which was pretty general on both sides for some minutes. 
The shooting of the natives, however, was very erratic and they 
made but a short stand, the shells from the 7 pounder, bursting 
in among the huts, thoroughly demoralizing them.’ 21 men were 
killed, including Ngomo himself, and 47 head of cattle were taken. 1 

Reactions to these displays of strength in support of the regime 
of burgher ‘justice’ varied widely. The contrast with Colquhoun’s 
regime won the warm approval of Rhodes and of the settlers. ‘I 
am glad to hear that you are maintaining the dignity of the law,’ 
cabled Rhodes to Jameson on February 12th 1892. ‘Curio’ 
Brown tells us that for several months after this ‘taste of the white 
man’s power’, ‘the lives and property of white men travelling in 
distant parts of Mashonaland were more secure than in most 
civilized countries’. 2 

The British authorities were not so enthusiastic, however. These 
patrols did not sort very well with their advice that the Shona 
should be left to themselves as much as possible. After Graham’s 
patrol the Imperial Secretary expressed the view that ‘legally 
Captain Graham is as much a free-booter and murderer as the 
men he shot’; he also urged that kraals be not burnt and that no 
action be taken that involved ‘the punishment of women and 
children, who may be presumed to be innocent’. ‘I must remind 
you,’ he wrote, ‘that Mashonaland is now under a regular system 

1 Lendy’s report, 24 Mar. 1892; Hole to Acting Secretary, Cape Town, 21 
Mar. 1892, CT 1/15/7. 

2 W. H. Brown, op. cit; Rhodes to Jameson, 12 Feb. 1892, CT 1/15/4. 



of law and the obligations imposed by that law are binding not 
only on the citizen but also on the administrator.’ Lendy’s action 
against Ngomo caused even stronger protests. ‘The punishment 
inflicted in this case, involving the loss of some twenty three lives, 
appears utterly disproportionate to the original offence, which 
was the theft of some goods from a Mr Bennet.’ The Colonial 
Office expressed itself of the opinion in May that ‘Lendy acted in 
this matter with recklessness and undue harshness. It appears to 
his Lordship that proceedings of this character are likely to do 
incalculable injury to the British South Africa Company.’ 

As a result of these protests what ‘Curio’ Brown calls ‘methods 
more in harmony with modern ideas of progress’ were adopted in 
Salisbury. But this did not involve any essential modification of 
the system; the Field Cornets went on dealing with local troubles; 
the police went on dealing with anything on a larger scale; but 
care was taken to avoid anything as sensational as the Graham 
and Lendy patrols. At the same time some attempts were made 
to bring white offenders against Africans to book. On the few 
occasions when these attempts were fruitful they caused much fury 
among the settlers; Brown describes a case in which he himself 
was involved which provoked threats of mass resignations from 
the Volunteers, and he paints a vivid picture of the essential 
settler, ‘old Charlie Kettels’, standing in the street outside the hall 
in which Jameson was toasting the Volunteers and persuading 
them to withdraw their resignations, shouting: ‘You think the 
country belongs to Dr Jameson, do you, you blank bounders? 
This isn’t Dr Jameson’s country, nor Mr Rhodes’ country, nor 
none of them beggars’ country. This is our country. We’re the 
pioneers of the country. Who’s Rhodes? Blank him.’ 1 

The voice of old Charlie Kettels was increasingly heard in the 
land from early 1893 onwards as for the first time the administra- 
tion, however timidly, came into conflict with the interests of the 
whites. Some settler witnesses in 1896 seriously attributed the 
risings to too great leniency on the part of the Company. But it is 
very doubtful whether the new primness of Jameson’s administra- 
tion made any great difference to the general situation of the 
Shona. It could hardly have done so without some system of regu- 
lar local control, and the evidence is abundantly clear that most of 
the old exercises of local white influence and power continued. 

1 W. H. Brown, op. cit. 


And if there were no more well-publicized patrols like those of 
February and March 1892, the police were still available to lend 
their support to settler demands for labour and for respect. In 
March 1893, for instance, sub-inspector Bodle took a police 
patrol out to Amanda’s kraal because the headman had replied 
to a message ordering him ‘to send some of his boys to work’ by 
saying that ‘his men were not going to work for white men and 
that if Police came he would fire on them’. The headman was 
arrested; fined six goats and three head of cattle; and given 50 
lashes ‘administered in the presence of a good number of his men, 
i besides people belonging to other kraals’. 1 

In short the old system, very little modified, continued until the 
creation of the Native Department late in 1894. Before describing 
this development we may pause to sum up the effects of four years 
of local white initiative, backed up by police action and imper- 
fectly restrained by the central administration. The first days, in 
which both Shona and Europeans regarded each other with a 
half amused tolerance had long gone. Already by 1894 the con- 
trast noted by the journalist Thomson, in his study of the Rho- 
desian administration, was only too apparent. ‘It is not pleasant 
to notice,’ he wrote, ‘the way in which the Mashona avoid coming 
into contact with the settlers, and to recollect that when we first 
went up to Mashonaland they welcomed us gladly.’ 2 

Thus Weale tells us that when he was first appointed Native 
Commissioner in September 1894, ‘I found that I had to try and 
gain the confidence of the natives that they might not run away 
on the sight of a white man; they were very timid, especially the 
women. The reason for this appeared afterwards to be on account 
of some of the police formerly stationed there making a practice 
of assaulting and raping any native woman they found in the veld 
alone.’ Edwards tells us that when he was appointed Native Com- 
missioner in 1895, ‘at first the natives, in the outlying kraals of the 
north and east of Mrewa, were very timid and deserted their 
kraals whenever they heard of our approach. We had often to wait 
at kraals for several days to get in touch with the people. This fear 
gradually died down as they found no harm was done to them.’ 
Their memories are amply borne out by contemporary testimony. 

1 Bodle’s report, 7 Mar. 1893; Mining Commissioner, Mazoe, to Magistrate, 
Salisbury, 8 Mar. and 16 Mar. 1893, DS 1/1/1. 

2 H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and its Government, London, 1898. 



On December 30th 1894, for instance, the new Native Com- 
missioner at Hartley Hills wrote that he ‘found that the Mashonas 
were in the habit of clearing away from their villages on the 
approach of any white man. This I have not yet been altogether 
able to stop. . . . The chiefs have appeared to have so little 
authority over their men that anyone in want of boys . . . have 
had to press the first that they came across. Hence the reason of 
boys clearing away from their kraals.’ A similar report came from 
Umtali at the end of 1894. ‘Many people of Umtali have been in 
the practice of going out to the neighbouring kraals and there 
obtaining labour under the pretext of being Government officials; 
having got the boys they bring them to Umtali and then before 
their month is up so ill treat them that the boys bolt and con- 
sequently get no payment. ... To such an extent has this been 
carried on that it is now almost impossible to get boys from the 
kraals to work in Umtali as the boys are unable to see any differ- 
ence between one white man and another and say that all equally 
refuse to pay them.’ 1 

In 1897, during the controversy over the treatment of the 
Shona, the Cape Times asserted that the settlers of Mashonaland 
numbered ‘a proportion of public school and university and army 
men of a well-known English type, not saints at all, perhaps 
rather tough customers, but gentlemen, not brutes, not cowards, 
not liars’. The evidence does not, indeed, suggest that the typical 
white settler in Mashonaland was a brute or a coward or a liar. 
What it does suggest is that given the ‘rather tough customers’ 
who settled amongst the Shona the sort of injustice and ill treat- 
ment which we have been describing was inevitable in a situation 
where the central administration made so little attempt to regu- 
late or control events. For this we must share the blame equally 
between Rhodes and Jameson, who were so careless about 
African reactions and African wrongs, and the British Government 
which desired to have a British presence in Mashonaland but was 
not prepared to face up to the implications of this desire. 2 

After the overthrow of Lobengula in the Ndebele war of 1893 
the formal legal position of Mashonaland changed radically. In 

1 Weale’s reminiscences, WE 3/2/5; Edwards’ reminiscences, ED 6/1 /i; 
N.C. Hartley, to Acting Administrator, 30 Dec. 1894, A 15/1/1; Resident 
Magistrate, Umtali, to Public Prosecutor, Salisbury; 23 Oct. 1894, J 1/1/1. 

2 Cape Times , 22 Nov. 1897. 


British legal theory the Company administration no longer 
derived its authority there from Lobengula’s grants or from the 
somewhat nebulous British Protectorate but enjoyed powers over 
both whites and blacks as the grantee of the British Crown, now 
sovereign of Matabeleland and Mashonaland by right of conquest. 
Thus for the first time there was a firm legal foundation for Com- 
pany jurisdiction over the African peoples of Mashonaland which 
henceforth depended upon the provisions of the Matabeleland 
Order in Council of July 18th 1894. This change was, of course, 
purely a theoretical one as far as Mashonaland was concerned. 
Nothing had happened there to make the Shona feel any more 
subject to the whites; certainly they did not feel themselves to 
have been conquered. The notion that the downfall of the 
Ndebele monarch whose sovereignty many of the Shona para- 
mounts had never accepted involved their own submission to 
British authority was incomprehensible to the Shona and had it 
been comprehended would certainly have been repudiated. But 
the new theory allowed the Company to move for the first time 
towards a more regular system of ‘native administration’. 1 

To begin with, however, Jameson had no particular desire to 
establish such a system. The Matabeleland Order in Council did 
not stipulate that there should be a Native Department, in striking 
contrast to Milner’s care over this question in 1897 and 1898. But 
it did allow the Company to institute a hut tax, as they had been 
wanting to do since 1892. Little time was wasted. In March 1894 
instructions were drawn up for the collection of a hut tax at the 
rate of ioj. a hut per year. These instructions did not envisage any 
radical reorganization. Mounted police were to do the collecting; 
payment was to be made to the Civil Commissioners ‘or the 
Mining Commissioner in outlying districts’; and no new responsi- 
bilities for the control of the Shona were laid down. The only 
innovation was the provision that ‘in districts where there is no 
Civil Commissioner or Mining Commissioner resident, an officer 
will be appointed to receive the hut tax, and the Police will make 
known to the natives the name of the officer and where he is to 
be found’. 2 

These specially appointed officers, however, were not to be in 
any sense Native Commissioners. The Acting Administrator, 

1 G. Palley, op. cit., chap. 6. 

2 Instructions on the collection of hut tax, 17 Mar. 1894, A 15/1/1. 


Duncan, told a correspondent who had expressed anxiety over the 
effect on the Shona of the levy of the tax, and argued for the crea- 
tion of a proper Native Department, that ‘I do not like to take the 
step of appointing a Native Commissioner which would involve a 
certain amount of expense before we get a sufficient amount of 
Hut Tax to justify the expenditure’. What happened was that 
local farmers or other Europeans were appointed as collectors for 
the district in which they resided. Thus, for example, Richard 
O’Reilly, who farmed in the Rusape district was appointed col- 
lector there, and given the power to collect the tax either in 
money or in labour on the roads. In the Marendellas area, the 
first Native Commissioner later reported, ‘in their hurry to start 
tax collection the Company had entered into an arrangement 
with a local farmer to collect cattle, sheep and goats failing cash, 
on a share basis’. It was the last great extension of the principle of 
local enterprise. Not surprisingly these arrangements proved un- 
satisfactory. Shona resistance to the new tax was determined; and 
the collectors in some cases used their new powers exclusively to 
their own advantage. By September, for instance, Duncan was 
writing to O’Reilly demanding ‘an explanation as to why, when 
you were appointed to be a Hut Tax collector, you sold goods at 
exorbitant prices to Makoni and demanded further payment, 
threatening to burn down the kraal with the assistance of the 
police’. 1 

But the collection of the tax by the Civil and Mining Com- 
missioners proved little more satisfactory. These over-burdened 
officials either collected little tax or blundered into fierce Shona 
resistance. In Lomagundi, indeed, the collection of the hut tax 
by the Mining Commissioner provoked a major incident. Loma- 
gundi, as we have seen, had experienced one of the rare Ndebele 
raids into Mashonaland after 1890; and as a result the people of 
paramount Lomagundi had applied to the Company for protec- 
tion. By 1894 they were thoroughly disillusioned with the pro- 
tection afforded to them, involving as it did virtual forced labour. 
The responsibility for the district was in the hands of the Mining 
Commissioner, an official whose methods with the Shona were 
direct and unsubtle. In March 1894, for instance, the Com- 
missioner reported that he had gone with a prospector, Eyre, to 

1 Duncan to Dennison, 7 June 1894; Duncan to O’Reilly, 23 May 1894, 
A 2/14/1; Duncan to O’Reilly, 1 Sept. 1894, A 2/14/2. 


get labourers from a kraal. ‘I gave orders that all the boys in the 
kraal were to stop there until I had seen how many there were/ 
he reported, ‘and one boy immediately made off and Eyre went 
to stop him when the boy turned on Eyre and went for him with 
a battle axe and assegai. Eyre repeatedly called him to stop and 
on his not doing so he shot him through the body. . . . Eyre’s act 
was purely self-defence and I think the general effect on the 
natives will be extremely beneficial. They are a cheeky and 
independent lot.’ 1 

It was upon this official that the responsibility for collecting the 
tax was now placed. Throughout 1894 he complained of the diffi- 
culty of his new task — he had only two policemen for the whole 
district and neither of them were mounted; the chiefs resented the 
new tax and would bring only derisory amounts of food or stock 
in settlement of it. ‘If I started to force them to pay’, he wrote, 
‘there would be lots of trouble with them and the consequence 
would be deserted kraals and depopulated districts.’ In August 
1894 a new Mining Commissioner did attempt to compel the 
paramount, Lomagundi, to pay his tax in full, with exactly the 
results that his predecessor had predicted. The new man, Pocock, 
was on patrol collecting labour for the mines, which was then 
desperately short, and demanded of the paramount that he com- 
pound for the tax due from his people by providing labour. The 
paramount sent too few workers; Pocock set out with two white 
policemen and one black to the paramount’s kraal; the police 
were sent in ‘to procure boys if possible’; and in a scuffle with the 
paramount one of the white Troopers was stabbed to death. 2 

Inevitably a police patrol was sent out from Salisbury; equally 
inevitably its punishment was both heavy and indiscriminate. On 
September 10th 1894 sub-inspector Hopper and his patrol arrived 
at the Wesleyan Mission Station in Lomagundi, situated some 
thirty miles south of the paramount’s kraal. Hopper addressed the 
Shona gathered there, among them some seven chiefs or headmen, 
‘on the ingratitude of treacherously killing our people’ who had 
saved them from the Ndebele; had two men, pointed out as 
deserters from the mines, given ‘ten lashes in front of the assembly’; 
and departed with the seven chiefs and headmen as hostages. As 

1 Ferguson to Administrator, 29 Mar. 1894, DS 1/1/1. 

2 Reports by Mining Commissioner, Lomagundi, May, July, Aug. 1894, 
M 1/1/1 and CT 1/15/6. 


his patrol left the Mission, some of the hostages attempted to 
escape; ‘they were challenged to stop, but not complying, shots 
were fired by my men and three were killed’. This action, Hopper 
later reported, ‘was absolutely necessary to impress upon the 
native mind that when the Government through its officers issues 
a mandate or makes a statement, such command or saying will be 
enforced with the utmost firmness’. 

To others his action seemed the most indefensible of the acts of 
the old regime. The local missionary, Mr Eva, was prepared to 
swear on oath ‘that these chiefs were entirely innocent of the 
policeman’s death. Indeed they were at that time totally ignorant 
of its occurrence.’ Missionary outcry was supported by the first 
Native Commissioner of Lomagundi on his arrival in the district. 
‘I greatly regret the course that was taken by the last police 
patrol,’ he wrote, ‘as the wrong natives were punished. The crime 
that was committed was done by Mazimagupa’s people, west, and 
the penalty was paid by the natives in the southern part of this 
district, namely six chiefs shot dead and cattle and goats con- 
fiscated by the police. . . . The police must keep away from the 
kraals for the time being as I have told the natives that no-one 
shall interfere with them.’ 1 

This Lomagundi incident, resulting in a scandal similar to those 
of early 1892, and resulting also in a district totally denuded 
of labour, finally persuaded the administration that some new 
arrangements were required. ‘I am directed to inform you’, wrote 
the Administrator’s secretary to Pocock on September 6th, 1894, 
‘that Mr Duncan is getting Mr Brabant to come up to Salisbury 
and is appointing hut-tax collectors to deal with the natives and is 
particularly anxious that you should not raid the natives either for 
Hut Tax or labour for prospectors, as it is constantly leading the 
Company into troubles because once begun the thing has to be 
carried to a conclusion which involves shooting the natives, etc.’ 2 

At long last, then, towards the end of 1894 the Mashonaland 
Native Department began to take shape. Even then it was very far 
from ‘a strong and able Native administration’ which ‘considered 
the conciliation and welfare of the Natives as the all important 

1 Hopper’s report, 10 Sept. 1894, CT 1/15/6; N.C., Lomagundi, to C.N.C. 
Salisbury, 3 Oct. 1894, N. 1/1/5. 

2 Secretary, Salisbury to Mining Commissioner, Lomagundi, 6 Sept. 1894, 
M 1/1/1. 


object to aim at’. The new officers were appointed first and fore- 
most to collect the hut tax; and secondly to raise labour. At first 
they were actually known as Hut Tax Collectors under Brabant 
as the Native Commissioner. The atmosphere of the new depart- 
ment comes over well in Native Commissioner Weale’s remi- 
niscences. ‘I had half an hour’s interview with the Acting Ad- 
ministrator,’ he tells us, ‘and he gave me a rough outline of what 
I was expected to do, consisting of establishing contact with the 
natives and explaining the hut tax expected of them, consisting of 
cattle, sheep or goats, explaining that they were now free from the 
dominion of the Matabele and that we intended to rule the country 
in future and give them good Government for which they in turn 
were to pay an annual tax, which they might obtain from the 
whites for whom they were expected to work. Any further en- 
quiries as to procedure were invariably met with the slogan “that 
we were to use our own discretion”. So armed with these vague 
commissions we went out into the blue and did our best.’ 1 

The new department was also expected to deal with recalci- 
trant Shona without calling in the regular police. ‘The white 
police had their stations along the main roads,’ Weale tells us, ‘and 
they were directly under the control of the Commissioner of 
Police and it was found inadvisable for them to be employed on 
Native Departmental work, which was often of a semi-political 
nature and not generally understood, and in case of local trouble 
which might be magnified and lead to panic on the part of settlers, 
possibly leading them to write to the home papers in which 
exaggerated accounts might fall into the hands of unscrupulous 
enemies of the Chartered Co. and result in endless enquiries from 
the home Govt, and possibly affect the share market adversely. 
All these possibilities had to be taken into account by members of 
the Native Dept., and led them to guard against any of their 
movements being known to the police or the public. It was there- 
fore enjoined on us to observe as much secrecy as possible in 
matters which we could overcome with our Police boys and by 
ourselves without outside armed assistance, and this is the practice 
we invariably followed.’ 2 

1 Weale’s reminiscences, WE 3/2/5. 

2 Weale, op. cit. The withdrawal of the police from active participation in 
‘native policy’ was probably also a result of Jameson’s desire to have them free 
for such ventures as the later Jameson Raid. 


Each Native Commissioner was instructed to raise his own 
police and to arm them as best he could, and some motley forces 
were thus gathered together. ‘The pay for messengers was ioj - . per 
month and rations,’ Edwards tells us; ‘they had to provide their 
own clothing, which at first consisted of cat or monkey skins and 
feather head-dresses. Later at my expense I provided each of them 
with a second hand red infantry tunic.’ These men were the main- 
stay of the Native Commissioner in peace as well as war; ‘We were 
all of us very young and inexperienced’, confesses Weale, ‘We had 
to learn the language and were dependent to a great extent on our 
Native Police for guidance in settling disputes and to acquaint 
ourselves with native customs and habits, which were entirely 
new to us.’ 1 

The new department, consisting of Chief Native Commissioner 
Brabant, eleven young Native Commissioners, and their locally 
recruited messengers and police, undoubtedly succeeded in raising 
large amounts of hut tax and dealing discreetly with local dis- 
orders. Brabant was able to claim rather smugly in February 1895 
that a much greater amount of tax had been collected with far 
less trouble than had been the case in 1894 and to remark that 
where trouble was taken to explain things to natives they proved 
tractable, while ‘where indiscriminate force has been resorted to 
the result has invariably proved detrimental to the object that 
may have been in view’. But it may be doubted whether its 
operations resulted in much of an improvement as far as the Shona 
were concerned. Obviously a greater efficiency in collecting tax 
was in itself going to be resented; but this resentment was magni- 
fied by the way in which the department was run under Brabant. 2 

Brabant, says Edwards, was ‘in a way a rough diamond’. ‘The 
Chief of the Department’, writes Weale, ‘was a rough and ready 
illiterate young man, with an aptitude to learn to speak primitive 
African languages. He was a great believer in corporal punish- 
ment and was as brave as a lion, a good rider and rifle shot, in- 
tensely loyal to the B.S.A. Company, quite honest, and with 
an 'unquenchable thirst for kaffir beer.’ 

The atmosphere of the Department under Brabant comes out 
clearly in a story which Weale tells, in no spirit of criticism, of an 
expedition led by the Chief Native Commissioner early in 1895 to 

1 Edwards and Weale, op. cit. 

2 Brabant to Acting Administrator, 7 Feb. 1895, A 15/1 /i. 



the Mtoko area, where the Budja chiefs had resisted the collection 
of hut tax, recaptured cattle seized for its payment, and fired on 
the Native Commissioner’s messengers. The expedition was a 
formidable affair, consisting of a patrol of white police, under 
Brabant’s orders, the messengers of the Marendellas and Salisbury 
districts, and some 450 Zezuru ‘friendlies’; nothing less than a 
small army of invasion. As it approached the Native Commis- 
sioner’s camp at Mtoko it was greeted by four of his messengers, 
‘dressed in cricket blazers, wearing second hand boots’. ‘Now, if 
there was one thing about a native more than another that an- 
noyed Brabant’, Weale tells us, ‘it was to see a raw native wearing 
boots.’ So he had the men seized and stripped. Once he reached 
the Native Commissioner’s camp, Brabant had these four men and 
all the rest of the messengers and native police flogged for their 
failure to collect tax and keep the district in order. He then sent 
out some of Weale’s men to bring in chief Guripila and his head- 
men. Next day Guripila arrived. ‘Brabant then went up to 
MaGuripira and started interrogating him and asked, what is the 
reason for this military display, now that he had come himself 
he found the country all armed, pointing to the surrounding hills. 
One of the counsellors said something to which Brabant evidently 
took exception and on continuing to be insolent Brabant took a 
jambok out of a police boy’s hand and struck him with it. Im- 
mediately Guripira and his counsellors made a dash for liberty but 
most of them were stopped. MaGuripira then opened a box he 
had brought with him and displayed a helmet and breast-plate of 
brass together with a sword and belt and sabretash; this he offered 
to Brabant as a peace-offering, but Brabant spurned it with his 
foot and called upon everybody to go raiding the country. . . . He 

( explained to Guripira that he could either go in person or send his 
counsellors to tell his people that we were going to burn and shoot 
and destroy everything we saw until he sent to stop us and ask for 
mercy, but that before we would cease he would have to fill the 
valley with cattle for us to pick from for hut tax and that he was 
1 also to furnish us with 200 of his picked men to go and work in the 

‘We then proceeded down the valley in search of something to 
destroy,’ continues Weale. ‘The police boys and messengers and 
camp followers scattered over the hills and burnt down all the 
kraals they came across until the whole atmosphere was dense 


with smoke of burning rapoko and other corn and grass.’ The 
whites amused themselves meanwhile with c a pig-sticking match 
on foot and horse-back’. Guripila then sent to say that he had met 
Brabant’s conditions. ‘We returned to camp to find the valley 
literally full of cattle, all lowing and bellowing.’ Next day the hut 
tax was collected in cattle and goats; Guripila was fined more 
cattle; and 500 of his men were recruited for work in the mines. 1 

After this account of Brabant’s dashing but arbitrary conduct in 
Mtoko it will come as little surprise that he was the particular 
protege of Rhodes and Jameson. When Brabant was appointed 
head of the new Department it was noted that ‘Mr Rhodes has 
received such excellent reports of Brabant’s work that he wishes to 
give him this appointment and salary’; and Weale tells us that 
‘Jameson . . . had great confidence in Brabant’s ability to deal 
with natives’. No doubt Jameson regarded the Mtoko patrol as a 
proof of the utility of the new Department, since it had been 
better directed, more profitable in tax and labour and less pub- 
licized than the old police patrols. But like them it was in essence a 
raid and bore little relation to the establishment of regular ad- 
ministration. 2 

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that this operation was 
typical of the work of the new Department. But it was not an 
isolated case and there were other literal invasions of districts by 
Department officials at the head of ‘friendly’ levies. Thus Edwards 
tells us that later in 1895 he ‘raised a force of fifty WaZizuru, 
armed with old muzzle loading guns’ to make a patrol into the 
Fungwi area in the north-east of his district. Both Mtoko and the 
Fungwi were remote districts with few whites living in them and 
the authority of the administration was not fully established in 
either area before 1896. Despite the Brabant patrol the history of 
the Mtoko area in 1895 and early 1896 was one of constant refusal 
to pay tax, constant skirmishes between the Native Commissioner 
and hostile chiefs, climaxing in June 1896 with a combined attack 
by all the main chiefs of Mtoko on the Native Commissioner’s 
camp. In areas like Mtoko the demand for hut tax had stimulated 
a resistance which the inadequately staffed Department was 
unable to deal with. Even in the areas closer to Salisbury and 

1 Weale, op. cit. See also, Armstrong’s report on Mtoko, N 1/1 /6; Armstrong 
to Taberer, 25 Feb. 1897, LO 5/4/2. 

2 Duncan to Spreckley, 8 June 1894, DV 1/2/1. 


relatively densely populated with whites, the early history of the 
Department was one of clashes with protestant paramounts rather 
than one of the establishment of regular administration. So Weale 
tells us that ‘on many occasions’ in the Marendellas district ‘the 
messenger boys were driven off by the natives, who refused to pay 
hut tax and in some cases the natives fired on them, telling them 
they would do the same to the white man too, and it was found 
necessary to arm a percentage of the messengers with Martini 
rifles and ball cartridges for self defence in the future’. Weale was 
generally able in his district to deal with these piece-meal defiances 
with the forces he possessed, but he comments that ‘one of the 
effects of this policy was to lead people into the false belief that the 
natives were too cowardly ever to rise in open rebellion, which was 
disproved in 1896, causing a feeling of false security and un- 
( preparedness, which was to prove disastrous’. 1 

Shona resistance to hut tax was, then, widespread; few Shona 
paramounts recognized the right of the Company administration 
to demand tribute from them or accepted the argument that they 
were under the Company’s protection. Even in areas where no 
armed resistance was made collection of the tax during the 
Brabant regime was arbitrary and irregular, appearing more like 
the levy of a tribute than the collection of a civil tax. Almost 
everywhere the tax was taken in stock; ‘the kraals are complaining 
that in some instances they are left without a single beast’, wrote 
the Magistrate of Gwelo with reference to the activities of one of 
Brabant’s Commissioners in his district; ‘Mr Hulley got goats 
truly by force’, wrote a Native Commissioner in Melsetter of his 
predecessor, ‘and indeed the most loose system of work I have 
seen. For instance about 70 goats were taken from the Mafahuri 
and no exempt given.’ So far had the de-stocking of some areas of 
Mashonaland gone under Brabant’s regime that the Executive 
Council decided in November 1895 that the collection of the hut 
tax should be suspended for three months and that thereafter it 
should not be levied in the form of stock ‘in view of the fact that at 
this rate there would be no cattle left to collect in a year or two’. 2 * 4 

The activity of the Department in collecting tax was undoubtedly 

1 Armstrong’s report on Mtoko, N 1/1 /6. 

2 Report by Magistrate, Gwelo, 8 Jan. 1895, EC 4/1/1; N.C. Meredith to 

Magistrate, Melsetter, 25 Feb. 1896, DM 2/9/1; Executive Council minute, 

4 Nov. 1895, EC 3/1/1. 


the main reason for Shona hostility to it. But it was not the only 
one. In theory the Department was supposed to exclude private 
settler initiative in the recruitment of labour, just as it was sup- 
posed to exclude police initiative in the settlement of disputes or in 
the ‘pacification’ of districts. The prevention of settler pressing of 
labour, which the Department on the whole achieved, should have 
been a great advance. But labour had to be procured somehow — 
indeed the Department had to demonstrate to its critics that it was 
actually more efficient in raising labour just as it had been more 
efficient in raising tax. As a result the coercion of labour con- 
tinued, and probably increased, though in a different form. The 
coercive element was present even in the official and theoretical 
operation of the system. As Lord Grey told Sir Richard Martin in 
1897, chiefs and headmen were ‘asked’ by the Commissioners to 
supply labour and ‘expected’ by them to supply it. If they did not 
live up to this expectation other action was taken. Thus the Native 
Commissioner, Hartley, having first described the private con- 
scription of labour in his district before his appointment went on: 
‘I have had considerable difficulty in making the chiefs supply boys 
when demanded during the first quarter; they evidently not 
understanding the new order of things and wanting some prac- 
tical experience before dropping into the way of it. . . . So many 
cases of boys running away from their employers have occurred 
that to prevent it continuing I have seized all the cattle and goats 
from a chief whom I consider encouraged them in it, and have 
told him that he will not get any back again until all the boys who 
have deserted have come back and been punished.’ 1 

But the element of compulsion did not end there. We have 
already seen the extent to which the Commissioners were depen- 
dent on their Shona police and messengers. Short-staffed and 
under-equipped as they were the Commissioners had really no 
alternative but to rely on their police for collection of labour 
also. There is no doubt that throughout Mashonaland labour was 
collected in this manner by Department police and with a great 
deal of harshness. Thus in January 1896, yet another new Mining 
Commissioner in Lomagundi, now relieved of the duty of raising 
labour himself, was sharply critical of the way in which it was 
being done by the Native Department. ‘A practice obtains in the 
Native Department’, he wrote, ‘of sending Native Constables to 
1 Quarterly report, Hartley, 30 Dec. 1894, A. 15/1/1. 



collect boys to work, unaccompanied by the Native Commissioner 
or an assistant, and power so placed in the hands of Native Con- 
stables is very liable to be abused, and this is just what is taking 
place if the reports which reach me indirectly are true. I do not 
attach any want of diligence to the Native Commissioner here, nor 
do I see how he can personally visit all kraals himself, for the 
district is large, the kraals scattered and many of them in the fly, 
and he has no one to assist him, but I think it is a matter which 
should receive the serious consideration of the Native Department, 
for any abuses of this kind give rise to a feeling of distrust and want 
of confidence in the justice of the white man among the natives.’ 
In Melsetter a new Native Commissioner, appointed by Brabant’s 
successor, reported in February 1896 that under his predecessor ‘a 
vast amount of injustice has been done to the natives of this district 
by these colonial native police. . . . These boys do as they like and 
in interpreting tell their own tale.’ Yet despite his efforts at re- 
form, Melsetter missionaries were still complaining in 1897 that 
‘much injustice has been done to the natives through the general 
plan adopted in the administration of native affairs. We hold that 
the plan of sending native constables through the country col- 
lecting the natives by armed force, compelling them to labour here 
and there, wherever their services happen to be required, whether 
they are willing or not, their wives being seized as hostages in case 
they attempt to escape, is unjust and government has no right thus 
I to arrest and impress natives.’ 1 

The Native Department under Brabant was not, therefore, 

, much of an improvement over the private regime it had replaced. 

. It was too small; too ill informed; and above all not sufficiently 
. inspired from above with the correct attitude towards its duties. As 
Weale tells us, ‘in those days Sir J. Frazer’s “Golden Bough” was 
: unknown to me and in any case there was scant means of obtaining 
books on anthropology and primitive customs. . . . None of us had 
been trained for administrative work or had studied law . . . and 
1 from the Administrator downwards none took much interest in the 
Natives except in obtaining taxes from them and the keeping of 
1 them from doing mischief.’ 

1 Mining Commissioner, Lomagundi, to Registrar of Mines, Jan. 1896, 

; ML 2/2/1; N.C. Melsetter, to Magistrate, Melsetter, 29 Feb. 1896, DM 2/9/1; 

1 Report by Chairman, American Board Mission, Mount Silinda, 18 July 1897, 

' DM 2/7/1. 



The Administrator, in fact, was still much more interested in 
furthering Rhodes’ plans for South Africa as a whole than in 
building up the Rhodesian administration. In October 1895 
Jameson moved the great majority of his white police to the 
border with the Transvaal in preparation for the planned march 
into the territory of the Boer republic which, it was hoped, would 
overthrow President Kruger and speed the day of a self-governing, 
English speaking South Africa. From that time onward he ceased 
to control the administration of Mashonaland and the defeat of his 
raid, his capture, imprisonment and trial effectively removed his 
influence from the province. In his absence steps were taken to 
reform the Native Department. In November 1895 Brabant was 
dismissed from his post by a decision of the Executive Council. The 
Council records give no reason for this decision but there is little 
doubt that ‘Curio’ Brown was right when he wrote of Brabant; 
‘This gentleman had given the tribes under him an opportunity to 
learn of the white man’s power to rule. His regime became 
eventually the subject of so much criticism on account of its 
severity that he was dismissed from the employ of the Chartered 
Company.’ He was replaced as Chief Native Commissioner by a 
very different sort of man. H. M. Taberer was a university gradu- 
ate and qualified in administrative law and his appointment 
was clearly intended to give the Native Department a new atmo- 

It was accompanied, as we have seen, by a general order to 
Native Commissioners to suspend collection of the hut tax for 
three months and to ‘utilize their time in gaining a more thorough 
knowledge of their districts, in making maps and drawing up 
statistics’. Thus the Native Commissioners were given intimation 
that they were no longer to regard themselves as tax collectors first 
and foremost. Under Taberer ‘making maps and drawing up 
statistics’ came to bulk larger and larger in the work of the Com- 
missioners. ‘Taberer thinks I have not enough to do,’ complained 
one of them in March 1897, ‘and wires that I am required to send 
in a weekly summary by every mail of work done like any other 
policeman.’ Where Brabant’s instructions to Edwards had been 
‘for God’s sake don’t worry headquarters if you can avoid it’, 
under Taberer headquarters began increasingly to worry and to 
control individual Native Commissioners. 1 

1 N.C. Melsetter, to Magistrate, Melsetter, 17 Mar. 1897, EM 2/9/1. 


Taberer’s regime enjoyed only some six months before the out- 
break of the Mashonaland rebellion and for most of that time the 
combination of drought, locusts and rinderpest created emergency 
conditions. It is difficult to say, therefore, what it might have 
achieved. It was still under-staffed and under-supplied. But there 
are indications that Taberer was hoping to build up the sort of 
Native Department postulated by Sir Richard Martin. Certainly 
for Melsetter, an area not involved in the rising, a series of files 
survives for 1896 and 1897 which show us Taberer urging forward 
his Native Commissioner to do battle against the Afrikaaner far- 

[ mers and their exploitation of African labour where Brabant’s 
commissioners had been content to be their passive allies. There is 
some evidence, even, that before the rising the new policy had 
achieved a lessening in tension. Thus the Native Commissioner, 
Umtali, noted that since the ban on the seizure of stock for tax 
‘the Natives are not in the habit of rushing their cattle to the hills 
and rocks on the approach of the Native Commissioner.’ But the 
improvement, if improvement there was, came much too late to 
affect the movement of the Shona into irreconcilable opposition to 
the Company regime. 1 

In this brief account of administration in Mashonaland we have 
i seen how far and for what reasons the British South Africa Com- 
pany government, and Jameson in particular, failed either to 
control or to conciliate the Shona. We have seen, also, ample 
evidence of widespread grievances which in themselves would 
account for a general disposition to rebel. But what were individual 
Shona reactions to the administrative and settler intrusion into 
their lives? The stories of the relationship between the whites and 
two of the Shona paramounts, Makoni and Kunzwi-Nyandoro, 
i will give some idea of the way in which the decision to challenge 
the whites by co-ordinated force of arms was reached in particular 

Paramount chief Makoni Mutota Cirimaunga of Maungwe was, 
as Acting Administrator Vintcent wrote in 1896, ‘one of the most 
• powerful chiefs in Mashonaland’. His kraal was still large enough 
to be described by a missionary visitor as ‘a real town’, and his 
people were widely regarded as the most war-like and formidable 
of the Shona. Before the arrival of the Pioneers his career had been 

1 The Melsetter files are, DM 2/7/1, DM 2/9/1, J 1/4/1. Reply by N.C. 
Umtali, to Martin’s questions, C. 8547. 



a characteristic one for a nineteenth-century central Shona para- 
mount. His pre-occupations had been with the acquisition and 
maintenance of his paramountcy, with his relations with the para- 
mounts of Mbire, Nohwe, Barwe, Manyika, and the rest and with 
the power of the Goanese adventurer, Gouveia. Within the tribe he 
faced the incipient challenge of rival chiefly houses; his path to the 
paramountcy had been an irregular one, depending upon the 
exile of more senior claimants and the death by poisoning of his 
elder brother; and one Ndapfunya, son of his predecessor in the 
paramountcy, headed an opposition faction. Externally he fol- 
lowed an elaborate policy of diplomacy and war, shifting this way 
and that as the one constant necessity of his feud with paramount 
Mutassa of Manyika dictated. From his kraal on Gwindingwi hill, 
Makoni Mutota played the necessary game of late nineteenth- 
century Shona politics with shrewdness and success. It was a game 
he was good at and enjoyed playing. 

As far as he was concerned the arrival of the Company made 
very little difference at first, except as another factor which might 
be manipulated to his advantage. In October 1890 he granted a 
mineral concession to Selous on the Company’s behalf in exchange 
for the promise of a rent of £10 a year, but two months later he was 
receiving the Portuguese flag with equal complacency and pro- 
mising them that ‘he would eat up Mutassa’ and thus nullify the 
Company’s claim to Manicaland. Neither the new border nor the 
Company’s assumption of responsibility made much difference to 
Makoni’s activities for the first two years of Company rule. His 
orientation was still eastwards; Jameson meant less to him than 
Gouveia. In January 1892, for instance, Gouveia complained that 
Makoni and paramount chief Mtoko were sending men from 
Rhodesia to assist paramount chief Makombe of Barwe in his 
attack on the Goanese. ‘Mutassa’s, Matoko’s and Makone’s men 
come across and fight me,’ he protested. ‘When I beat them they 
run back into Company’s territory.’ And in June 1892 Captain 
Lendy discovered that Makoni’s activities were as unrestrained 
within Company territory; while on patrol he passed the kraal of 
chief Mbelwa who seemed ‘to live in constant fear of being raided 
by Makoni’s people’. ‘Told him’, reported Lendy, ‘the white 
people would not allow it and he might live in peace now.’ 1 

1 Report of Captain Graham, Jan. 1892, A 1/9/1, CT 1/15/2; report of 
Captain Lendy, 23 June 1892, CT 1/15/1. 


The white people were, in fact, beginning to encroach upon 
Makoni. Lendy told the chiefs in Makoni’s area in June 1892 that 
the Company would not allow ‘these raids and disturbances to 
take place in the country we had come into but wished law and 
order to be established without bloodshed if possible.’ Makoni had 
no desire for the Company to establish law and order anyway, but 
he was not impressed with the way it was being done. When his 
kraal was visited by the Anglican missionary, Frank Edwards, in 
1892 he would not allow the white man to enter. ‘White men were 
his enemies,’ Edwards reported him as saying. ‘They had killed 
some of Mangwende’s people and outraged the women. After 
assuring him again and again that I was his friend we were 
admitted and then he said “If God sent the white man to teach him 
and his people why did God send the white men to kill and out- 
rage the native peoples?” It was a difficult question to answer. 
‘You will easily see from this incident how utterly futile any 
mission work must be amongst the natives,’ wrote Edwards to 
Jameson, ‘if white men are allowed to kill them and outrage their 
women with impunity.’ 1 

Soon Makoni had to deal not only with wandering white 
adventurers, missionaries and police patrols, but with settled far- 
mers. Selous had reported in 1890 that ‘the country between 
Magoni’s and Mangwendi’s’ was ‘simply magnificent for farming 
purposes’, and had asked for a grant of land there. He was sure, he 
said, that he would be able to get the grant ratified by the para- 
mount. In Shona law Makoni would not have been able to make 
Selous any absolute grant of land; but in any case he was not even 
asked to approve the grants that the Company began to make in 
his area. After 1892 the Company claimed that the Lippert Con- 
cession from Lobengula allowed them to dispose of land in 
Mashonaland and proceeded to do so. In 1919 the Privy Council 
found that the Lippert Concession had not given the Company 
authority to dispose of land anywhere, so that even in terms of 
legal theory their action was unfounded. More importantly it had 
no basis in any fact appreciated by the Shona; Makoni regarded 
himself as still sovereign of Maungwe and he was not prepared to 
: recognize intruders into his area. 

The records show a long history of differences between Makoni 
and the local farmers who accused his people of ‘trespassing’ on 
1 Edwards to Jameson, 17 Jan. 1892, A 1/9/1. 


land which they had occupied for generations or who charged 
them rents. It can have done very little to persuade Makoni of the 
impartiality of Company justice that the Field Cornet of his area 
was also the leader of the neighbouring farmers with whom he had 
disputes over land. In January 1894 a police trooper was sent to 
Makoni’s kraal to tell him that Mr Wood, the Field Cornet, was 
‘occupying that land on the authority of the Company. If he has 
anything to complain of he can represent the matter either to the 
Civil Commissioner or to the authorities in Salisbury . . . but if he 
allows his people constantly to trespass on the land given to Mr 
Wood by the Company and to kill Mr Wood’s goats . . . the Com- 
pany will be obliged to give Mr Wood protection and punish those 
who molest him.’ In June 1894 another police patrol was sent to 
warn Makoni ‘not to plough on Mr Wood’s land without his 
permission’; in January 1895 the Executive Council debated a 
complaint from Makoni that one of his sub-chiefs had been com- 
pelled to pay rent to a Mr Buchanan in order to continue to 
remain in his old home, and decided that Buchanan was within his 
rights to demand such a rent. The journalist, Thomson, tells us 
that ‘one of the greatest of Makoni’s grievances was that his land 
should have been given away to strangers up to his very kraal’. 1 

Prevented from raiding his old enemies; prevented from taking 
his share of the old trade with the Portuguese; hedged in by 
European farms; Makoni was in a state of some resentment even 
before the imposition and collection of the hut tax. But the hut tax 
arrangements certainly increased it. O’Reilly, the local collector, 
used his position, as we have seen, to force goods on to Makoni at 
exorbitant prices and to threaten to ‘burn down his kraal with the 
assistance of the police’; it was little wonder that when Makoni 
rose in 1896 his first objective was ‘to seize O’Reilly’s cattle and 
then do away with the Native Commissioner and police’. Nor was 
Makoni any more content to pay tax to the new Native Depart- 
ment. In 1896 Vintcent asserted that he had ‘at no time met the 
Company in a proper and loyal spirit; on several occasions defying 
and threatening our Native Commissioners and their police’. 
Thomson tells us that ‘Makoni always chafed under the seizure of 
his country and in 1894 he killed a native policeman who had been 

1 Duncan to Trooper Young, 14 Jan. 1894; Duncan to Chief Commissioner 
of Police, 2 June 1894, A 2/14/1; Minutes of the Executive Council, 5 Jan. 
1895, EC3/1/1. 


misconducting himself, and in various ways showed a restive 
spirit’. It came as little surprise to anyone that Makoni Mutota 
was in the forefront of the rising in Mashonaland. 1 

The story of Kunzwi Nyandoro brings out even more clearly 
than that of Makoni the importance of the feeling of ‘self-deter- 
mination’ to the central Sliona paramounts since we have less 
evidence of specific grievances in his case. Kunzwi was a powerful 
figure in central Shona politics. ‘Kunzwi is the only chief in this 
district who has any command over his people,’ wrote the Native 
1 Commissioner, Salisbury, in December 1894. ‘Rusiki, together 
i with Maquendie have always been afraid to oppose Kunzwi’s 
i tribe, now numbered about 2000, and the chief kraal is the most 
[ naturally fortified position I have seen in this district. They are 
; well armed with fire-arms and other chiefs tell me that Kunzwi 
; was given 730 guns by Gouveia shortly before we came to the 
country.’ We have seen above the pride with which Kunzwi 
regarded his position as paramount. What sort of reaction would 
this ‘king’, secure in his ‘natural fortress’, have to the arrival of the 
I whites? 

It is clear that his reactions to individual whites were favour- 
able enough — provided they were content to live under his pro- 
1 tection. The Catholic mission station at Chishawasha, for in- 
stance, established a station at Kunzwi’s kraal; and Edwards, 
living as a young trader in the days before he became a Native 
Commissioner, tells of his amicable relations with Kunzwi and the 
manner in which the chief imposed fines or other punishments 
upon any of his own people, or members of other tribes, who stole 
from the whites or threatened them with violence. Edwards occu- 
pied the position, so he tells us, of ‘Nyandoro’s white man’. 2 

But Kunzwi Nyandoro was not prepared to be Dr Jameson’s or 
; Native Commissioner Campbell’s black man. Too formidable to 
be harassed by individual whites; his relations with the mission- 
aries and traders conducted amiably on his terms; Kunzwi’s clash 
with the whites came with the establishment of the Native De- 
partment when for the first time he was expected to submit to the 
1 regular operation of a superior authority and to pay taxes to it. 
From the very beginning of Campbell’s appointment as Native 
Commissioner for the Salisbury district he was in conflict with 

1 C.N.G. to Administrator, 17 June 1895, LO 5/6/1. 

2 Edwards, op. cit. Report by N.C. Campbell, 27 Dec. 1894, LO 5/2/40. 




Kunzwi. In September 1894 Kunzwi’s son, Panashe, killed a Zulu 
ox-driver after a quarrel over trespass; messengers sent to appre- 
hend Panashe were chased away from Kunzwi’s kraal and had to 
take refuge in Edwards’ store. ‘Panashe’, writes Edwards, ‘was 
never brought to trial. Nyandoro in his absence was fined twenty 
head of cattle. He was informed of this but made no attempt 
to pay and remained on guard in his hill fortress for several 
months and refused to have any dealings with Campbell or his 

In October 1895 Campbell tried to collect hut tax from Kunzwi 
for the first time; his police were fired on and driven off. This time 
the new Chief Native Commissioner, Taberer, was sent to tell 
Kunzwi ‘that he had acted wrongly in firing on and pursuing Mr 
Campbell’s police’ and to exact a fine of 10 cattle. Taberer was 
instructed to use ‘all tact and discretion’ in dealing with Kunzwi. 
Presumably he did so, but to no long term effect. In April 1896, 
two months before the rebellion in the Salisbury district, Camp- 
bell reported that ‘the chief Kunzwi had refused to allow the 
Native Police to collect hut tax in his district and had sent the 
police back to Mr Campbell with a threat that he would kill all 
police and white men in his district’. As a result of this threat a 
general warning was issued to all prospectors throughout Mashona- 
land; it was in fact the first intimation of the Shona rising. 1 

We may now sum up the character and effect of Company 
administration in Mashonaland. Despite its initial advantages in 
money and man-power the Company had devoted so little of its 
resources to native administration that the Shona were ‘controlled’ 
by an extremely haphazard and weak administrative machinery. 
It was not, however, this weakness which distinguished Southern 
Rhodesia from other territories in the early colonial period. The 
native administrations of the British and German companies in 
East Africa, or for that matter the early British and German 
administrations themselves, were equally weak and very little, if at 
all, more regular. The sharp distinction between Mashonaland and 
these other colonial situations was that in Mashonaland admini- 
strative weakness was combined with the presence and pressure 
of hundreds of settlers, with relatively rapid economic develop- 

1 Minutes of Executive Council, 4 Nov. 1895, EC 3/1/1; Instructions to 
C.N.C., 16 Nov. 1895, A 2/2/1; Minutes of Executive Council, 20 Apr. 
1896, EC 3/1/1. 


ment and with the demands of the over-confident Company itself. 
Generally speaking other early colonial regimes were aware of their 
weakness and ready to avoid an assault upon the total African 
society of the territory; moreover they could not even if they 
wished to do so ignore African economic systems completely and 
proceed at once to build up a white economy. 

In Mashonaland the Company could and did see its main role 
as support for the extension of white economic activity. In the early 
years the Company presented itself to the Shona merely as an 
extension of settler power; its activities were confined to supporting 
settlers through punitive expeditions and through the compulsion 
of labour. It first made a more direct impact with the hut-tax 
demand, although both in its operation and in its intention hut tax 
itself was closely linked with settler economic interests. This 

I demand for tax took place much earlier in the colonizing process 
in Mashonaland than elsewhere. Given the weakness of the Com- 
pany administration and the fact that the Shona paramounts 
regarded themselves as unconquered and still possessed arms, it 
was bound to lead to serious disorder. 

For the paramounts the tax demand came as the last in a series 
of grievances and led them to plan open and general armed 
resistance. These plans were bound to enjoy the overwhelming 
support of the Shona peoples. Company rule had meant for those 
Shona who lived in areas affected by white economic activity not 
only an infringement of the authority of the chiefs but a great 
disruption of their own lives. It had meant the loss of stock and 
sometimes of land; it had meant forced labour. Yet the Shona had 
neither been conquered by the whites nor come to terms with them 
in a series of treaty agreements. When there was added to all this 

I an unprecedented sequence of natural disasters — drought, locusts 
and the spread of cattle disease which led to the whites shooting 
much of the stock that had not been taken for hut tax — the mass 
determination of the Shona to rid themselves of the white presence 
' was confirmed. 

Thus the Shona were ‘controlled’ by a native administration as 
weak as any in early colonial East and Central Africa but exposed 
to white pressures which had no parallel elsewhere unless perhaps 
in the enforced collective cash-crop farming areas of German East 
Africa which were later to be the scene of the Maji Maji rising. This 
white pressure created a common environment for the majority of 



the Shona and produced a common desire to act. What was now 
needed was the discovery of some effective machinery of co- 
ordination. And then the complacent Company administration in 
Mashonaland was likely to be very severely tested indeed. 


Administration in Matabeleland, 

1893 to *896 

Colonial administration was established in Mashonaland 
by white infiltration into an area which was not at first equipped to 
comprehend what was involved nor to offer any co-ordinated 
resistance. Colonial administration was established in Matabele- 
land by the total military defeat of a resistant African state system, 
the leaders of which had for years been only too well aware of the 
implications of the white advance. The conquest of the Ndebele 
was followed by a considerably harsher and more intensive 
colonial pressure even than in Mashonaland. But it would be a 
mistake to suppose that such pressure was an inevitable after- 
effect of conquest. Many other African societies in Central and 
East Africa were defeated in war during the early colonial period 
and most of them were exposed after their conquest to signi- 
ficantly less pressure than the Shona, let alone the Ndebele. Once 
again the factor which distinguished the conquest of the Ndebele 
in 1893 from other early colonial conquests was the element of 
settler participation and the immediate expansion into Matabele- 
land of the economic energies of South Africa. As we shall see, just 
as the Company arrival in Mashonaland was signalled by the 
spreading out into the bush of the adventurers of the Pioneer 
Column so the Company victory over Lobengula was achieved 
largely by a white settler force determined from the beginning to 
exercise a free hand in post-conquest Matabeleland. And these 
men saw in the herds and lands of the Ndebele a richer prize than 
anything to be won in Mashonaland; mining prospects were 
thought at least as favourable; communications with South Africa 
were easier. Matabeleland in the three years between 1893 an d 
1896 witnessed a dispossession of Africans and a development of 
white enterprise unparalleled anywhere else in Central and East 
Africa. The new settlement of Bulawayo overtook Salisbury; with 
the railway reaching out towards it, it became the economic 


capital of the Rhodesian colony. Virtually the whole of Ndebele 
land and by far the greater part of Ndebele cattle passed into white 
hands. Here an African economic system was taken notice of; and 
having been noticed was expropriated. Profoundly involved any- 
way in the loss of land and cattle the Ndebele ‘commoners’ and the 
Shona subject peoples were drawn more rapidly than the peoples 
of Mashonaland into wage employment, sometimes in Matabele- 
land itself, sometimes in the Tati concessions, sometimes even in 
the mines of South Africa. 

Ndebele grievances were thus more dramatic than Shona and 
their experience of the new white economy more intimate. But 
these were not the only differences between the two societies. In 
Mashonaland it was not the mode of arrival of the alien power, 
still less a history of previously unsatisfactory relations with it, that 
was resented but its steadily increasing pressure on peoples who 
regarded themselves as still unconquered. In Matabeleland, on 
the other hand, a long history of diplomatic relations between 
the Company and the Ndebele before 1893 had already produced 
a bitter Ndebele resentment even before the conquest of that year. 
Moreover the manner of that conquest as well as the fact of it 
added to Ndebele grievances. The Ndebele aristocracy regarded 
the war of 1893 as an unjustifiable and unprovoked attack upon a 
monarch who was seen as having gone to almost humiliating 
lengths to avoid war with the whites. In order to understand the 
atmosphere of the Ndebele rising we must explore briefly these 
‘national 5 grievances before turning to the post-conquest adminis- 
tration or lack of it. 

It is unnecessary to describe in any detail the story of Rhodes’ 
negotiations with Lobengula before 1890; important as they were 
to the Company’s acquisition of its Charter and to the occupation 
of Mashonaland and relevant though they were to Ndebele bitter- 
ness. They have often been narrated, perhaps nowhere better than 
in Mr Phillip Mason’s fine book, The Birth of a Dilemma . We need 
notice here merely that the occupation of Mashonaland, theor- 
etically on Lobengula’s grant, was in fact carried out against his 
bitter opposition and came as the climax of a series of events in 
which the Ndebele aristocracy felt themselves to have been 
deceived systematically by the agents of Rhodes. But it is necessary 
to give some account of the movement towards the war of 1893. It 
is a story which brings out clearly the unscrupulous but skilful 


manipulation of men and events by Rhodes and his associates; the 
essential role of the white settler community; and the reasons for 
Ndebele bitterness after 1893. 1 

Although Rhodes had toyed in 1889 with a project for a surprise 
night attack on Bulawayo, and many of Lobengula’s advisers had 
urged him to attack the Pioneer Column in 1890, between the 
occupation of Mashonaland and the so-called Victoria Incident 
of July 1893 neither Lobengula nor the Company wanted war. 

I Lobengula almost certainly hoped to avoid war altogether for he 
had nothing to gain by postponing it. Rhodes and Jameson, how- 
ever, planned the eventual conquest of Matabeleland — Rhodes 
said later that they had thought in terms of a war in 1894 — but 
were happy to postpone the clash. They were happy because, as 
we have seen, it was believed that the Ndebele state was suffering 
from internal tensions which were progressively weakening its 
power to resist, and also because there were many other objects 
to be achieved before the Ndebele needed to be dealt with. The 
drastic reduction of the police at the end of 1891, which has often 
been put forward as a proof that Rhodes and Jameson did not 
plan war with the Ndebele, had in fact little to do with their 
intentions with regard to Matabeleland. The police had always 
been intended mainly to support Rhodes’ attempt to push to the 
sea through Portuguese East Africa; they were to deal with the 
Portuguese rather than with the Ndebele. When Rhodes and 
Jameson thought of an invasion of Matabeleland they thought of it 

I more in terms of an armed trek than of a police operation. Rhodes’ 
Afrikaaner admirer, De Waal, has recorded a conversation between 
Rhodes and would-be Boer trekkers at the end of 1891 in which 
Rhodes promised them that they would one day be called upon to 
deal with the Ndebele and be given land for their assistance; while 
Jameson seriously discussed with the Boer trek leader, Ferreira, 
the outline of a dash to Bulawayo by a commando of 500 mounted 
Boers. Both men knew that when it came to the point of a war 
with the Ndebele there would be no shortage of volunteers, eager 
to lay their hands on Ndebele cattle and land; their main concern 
was to ensure that any such trek took place under their control 

1 P. Mason, The Birth of a Dilemma, London, 1958. The fullest treatment of 
the 1893 war is, S. Glass, ‘The background of the Matabele War’, unpublished 
thesis for the M.A., University of Natal, 1959. I dissent from many of the con- 
clusions of this account. 


rather than independently of the Company. And when in 1893 the 
invasion of Matabeleland at last took place, Jameson’s triumphant 
column was composed in precisely this manner of white volunteer 
adventurers on a classic style commando raid. 1 

While bearing this consummation always in mind, Jameson was 
anxious so long as there was to be no war, to reduce tension, 
publicity and expense. He resolved to live amicably with Loben- 
gula, and by dint of the exercise of restraint and patience on both 
sides found this surprisingly easy to manage. Lobengula, while not 
accepting that the Company enjoyed rights of jurisdiction in 
Mashonaland, or that their presence there put any restrictions on 
Ndebele raids, was in practice careful to control his regiments, so 
as to avoid unnecessary raiding and to avoid any clashes with the 
whites. On his side Jameson took a resolutely realistic view of 
Ndebele activities which contrasted strongly with the moral in- 
dignation later expressed. As we have seen, he dismissed the Loma- 
gundi raid of October 1891 as ‘unfortunate but in accordance with 
Lobengula’s laws and customs’. The same attitude persisted in 
face of the infrequent Ndebele incursions of 1892 and early 1893 — 
remonstrances were made to Lobengula, but there was no dis- 
position whatever to inflate these incidents into a casus bellum , or to 
regard them as a source of serious danger to the settlers. By April 
1893, in fact, Harris was writing to the London Board that ‘the 
position of the Matabele today seems quite the reverse of what it 
was two years ago — now they fear an attack from us. Their appre- 
hension is that the whites will enter Matabeleland and evidently 
they have quite abandoned any idea of offensive action but instead 
think they require to be on their defence. All fear of raiding into 
our sphere is, in our opinion, absolutely a thing of the past.’ 2 

These assessments of the situation were a little too confident, 
however, as was demonstrated two months later when in July 
1893 a large Ndebele impi appeared in the Fort Victoria area to 
punish local Shona who had been responsible for the theft of 
telegraph wire and for fomenting discord between Lobengula and 
the Company. Both Jameson and Rhodes recognized that the 
action of Lobengula in sending this impi made no essential dif- 
ference to the situation. Jameson cabled that whites were in no 

1 De Waal, With Rhodes in Mashonaland, 1896; Harris to the London Board, 
9 Aug. and 30 Aug. 1893, LO 5/2/28 and 29. 

2 Harris to London Board, 12 Apr. 1893, LO 5/2/26. 


danger and that there was no conceivable chance of an Ndebele 
invasion of Mashonaland: the Victoria raid was really precisely 
similar to the Lomagundi raid. Jameson’s first reaction was to 
treat it in the same way. ‘Lendy’s description of burning kraals 
and Mashonas killed on the commonage of course very harrowing,’ 
he wired on July i ith, ‘but that was at first blush and after sun- 
down.’ ‘The incident, Mr Rhodes says,’ cabled Harris to the 
London Board on July 12 th, ‘is greatly to be regretted’ but ‘it has 
afforded strong proof of Lobengula’s determination not to come 
into collision with the white man’. 1 

Once Jameson arrived in Victoria, however, he changed his 
mind, not so much about the character of the raid as about the 
situation created by it. The main difference between this raid and 
previous ones was that it was the first to occur in an area occupied 
by white settlers. As Harris wrote with unusual frankness, previous 
raids had been ‘passed over and made light of because they have 
not actually and seriously threatened our lives and property’. This 
raid did not threaten white lives either, but it did threaten pro- 
perty in the form of the Shona labourers who were being killed. 
One could no longer take the killing of the Shona so calmly when 
it threatened the drying up of the labour supply. ‘It is simply a 
raid in rather large numbers,’ cabled Jameson on July 17th, but 
‘the serious part is that every native has deserted from mines and 
farms. . . . The labour question is the serious one. There is no 
danger to the whites but unless some shooting is done I think it 
will be difficult to get labour even after they have all gone. There 
have been so many cases of Mashona labourers killed even in the 
presence of the white masters that the natives will not have con- 
fidence in the protection of the whites, unless we actually drive the 
! Matabele out.’ He had summoned the Ndebele indunas, he re- 
ported. ‘I intend to treat them like dogs and order whole impi 
out of the country. Then if they do not go send Lendy out with 50 
mounted men to fire into them.’ 2 

For all the debate which has surrounded the events which then 
followed things happened exactly and simply as Jameson had said 
they would. The Ndebele were peremptorily ordered to go; they 
did not move off rapidly, and Lendy went out and fired into them. 

1 Jameson to Harris, 11 July 1893; Harris to London Board, 12 July 1893; 
LO 5/2/28. 

2 Jameson to Harris, 17 July 1893, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 3B. 


‘When I arrived’, cabled Jameson on the 19th after this clash, ‘it 
was a state of siege and nothing for it but killing a few to show we 
were not going to negotiate for ever.’ But the killing of a few 
Ndebele need not necessarily in itself have meant war; Jameson 
was sure that Lobengula did ‘not want to fight but will be pleased 
at some of his young bloods being thrashed’. The matter might 
quite possibly have ended there. 

Jameson was, however, as Major Leonard wrote of him, ‘very 
much in favour of men rising to the occasion’. As he surveyed the 
situation on July 19th he felt that here was an occasion to rise to; 
there would never be a better opportunity to launch the war which 
was eventually to take place. ‘The hare having once been started’, 
he cabled to Harris, ‘the people will not be satisfied of the security 
to life and property unless Loben gives in completely by paying 
up’ the compensation to be demanded, ‘or we go to Bulawayo. In 
fact at present they are all howling for the latter but that will pass 
over.’ Thus Jameson dismissed the supposedly irresistible public 
pressure which it has often been thought forced him into the war. 
On the other hand this white enthusiasm could be used and Jame- 
son thought the time had come to use it. ‘Rhodes might consider 
the advisability of completing the thing. The cash could be found 
and it could be done pretty cheaply if the Macloutsie Police and 
the High Commissioner keep out of it. I know Ferreira’s terms are 
for 500 mounted Boers to hand over the show, a moderate sum in 
cash and ammunition supplied, each man to receive a farm and his 
loot. ... I suggest the Ferreira trick as we have the excuse for a 
row over murdered women and children now and the getting 
Matabeleland open would give us a tremendous lift in shares and 
everything else. The fact of its being shut up gives it an immense 
value both here and outside.’ 1 

By July 22nd Jameson had come down even more firmly on the 
side of war — nothing would go well, he cabled, until ‘some 
definite action is taken on our part of going into Matabeleland’. 
After some initial reluctance Rhodes agreed. ‘Lobengula has 
forced this question on us. I would much rather it had been post- 
poned for a year, but as Lobengula has brought it to a head and 
not we, I consider Dr Jameson has acted quite rightly in every 
step he has taken.’ From this moment war was certain, despite the 

1 Jameson to Harris, 19 July 1893, ibid. 


difficulties of financing it and the difficulties of escaping the High 
Commissioner’s restraining control. 1 

It can be seen quite clearly in the Company letter books how 
the complex and effective propaganda machine controlled by 
Harris was set in motion. Ndebele aggression and their cruelty to 
the Shona, played down between 1890 and 1893, were now played 
up. The ‘row over murdered women and children’ was set going 
with a vengeance — ‘the question of contention between the Com- 
pany and Lobengula is not one of gold or land or taxes’, wrote 
Harris piously, ‘but is the unfortunate slave or Maholi’. Details of 
all previous raids on the Shona, hitherto unpublicized were com- 
piled; missionary letters calling for intervention on behalf of the 
Shona, hitherto ignored, were now sent to the British press. 
When J. S. Moffat wrote from Bulawayo to deny that Lobengula 
had any aggressive intention and to denounce Company prepara- 
tions for war, Harris circulated privately to editors of the major 
British papers letters written by Moffat in 1890 in which he had 
predicted and welcomed just such a war. 2 

If some people remained unconvinced by this skilful propaganda, 
the London Board of the Company were not among them. Re- 
assured that a forward policy would not be too expensive since 
Rhodes had placed £50,000 of his private fortune at Jameson’s 
disposal ‘to provide for any extra expenditure entailed by the 
Company at this end by the present state of affairs in Matabele- 
land’, they only too readily supported a war to rescue the Shona 
and to open Matabeleland to British enterprise. There was only 
one difficulty, the British Government. ‘Ripon sent for us the other 
day’, wrote one of the London Board to Rhodes, ‘and told us we 
might protect ourselves if attacked! but that we must in no case be 
in any way aggressive. ... I gather it is your intention to find 
some way round the Governor’s prohibition and settle the Mata- 
bele question this September once for all. We are in the darkness 
as to your plans but I have the fullest confidence in any move 
which you and Jameson agree in there. . . . We will support you 
whatever the issue.’ 3 

It was indeed Rhodes’ and Jameson’s intention to find a way 

1 Jameson to Harris, 22 July 1893; Harris to London Board, 9 Aug. 1893, 
LO 5/2/28. 

2 Harris to London Board, 27 Sept. 1893, LO 5/2/30. 

3 Grey to Rhodes, 1 Sept. 1893, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 3B. 


round the prohibitions of the British Government. By September 
their troops were ready; recruited under the terms of the Victoria 
Agreement of August 14th, the whites of Mashonaland and adven- 
turers from elsewhere in Southern Africa were prepared to march 
on Bulawayo in return for gold claims, farms, and loot. The High 
Commissioner, Harris thought, was convinced himself of the neces- 
sity of settling the matter but could not authorize an attack with- 
out some further pretext. But, added Harris significantly, T feel 
sure that a Matabele attack on us . . . will free his hand. 5 1 

Harris therefore set about convincing the world that Lobengula 
was preparing to invade Mashonaland and that the Company’s 
preparations were defensive. On September 13th, for instance, he 
wrote to report that Rhodes was convinced ‘that within a short 
time Lobengula will attack us’. ‘The news received today that the 
Mashonas are fortifying their caves and laying in supplies of water 
and mealies is most significant,’ he continued, ‘and as they are in 
close touch with their slave countrymen throughout Matabeleland 
they are thus enabled to form a very fair forecast of what Loben- 
gula and his Nation intend to do.’ ‘So far we have in no way or 
form shewn any hostile intent ... we have stood quietly on the 
defensive. Lobengula, on the other hand, has shown no sign what- 
ever of regret or compunction but on the contrary he has shown 
every indication to try conclusions with us; he has doctored his 
roads, doctored his people, on two occasions he has sent small 
impis over the border and has moved up large bodies of men on to 
our borders.’ On September 20th Harris was writing of ‘serious 
hostile movements on the part of Lobengula’. Since Lobengula 
had neither written to ask for peace after the Victoria incident nor 
offered to pay compensation, it was reasonable to believe, Harris 
claimed, that ‘he means to choose his own time and his own 
opportunity to re-assert his supremacy, and he is steadily moving 
up his men and making his internal arrangements preparatory to 
doing so. What is felt most in Africa is that the Colonial Office 
cannot see that this is the reasonable conclusion to be drawn from 
the events of the last two months in Mashonaland.’ An Ndebele 
attack, wrote Harris, could be expected within the next two 
weeks. 2 

In fact it seems certain that what Harris himself had written 

1 Harris to London Board, 20 Sept, 1893, LO 5/2/29. 

2 Harris to London Board, 13 and 20 Sept. 1893, LO 5/2/29. 


in April 1893 remained true and that the Ndebele had ‘quite 
abandoned any idea of offensive action but think they require to be 
on their defence’. Despite the killing of members of the Victoria 
impi, Lobengula no more wanted war in September 1893 than he 
had ever done; he knew as well as ever what its outcome would be. 
When the column under Jameson actually invaded Matabeleland 
in October they found that the Ndebele had ‘only out-posts’ along 
the borders and that their main force was posted defensively along 
the Shangani. ‘The western borders are more or less unprotected,’ 
wrote Colenbrander from Bulawayo on October nth. The ‘large 
1 impi ’ whose presence near Fort Victoria had been ascertained, 
according to Harris, ‘by their actual footpaths through the veld’, 
had no existence save in his fertile and convenient imagination. 
The Ndebele were not massing along the border to attack Mashon- 
aland. But Lobengula could not avoid the war; inevitably the 
necessary incidents of Ndebele firing on Company forces in the 
e east and British forces in the south were reported; the High Com- 
missioner gave permission for the advance; and the greatest of 
Jameson’s gambles commenced. 1 

All military authorities had scouted Jameson’s plan of a dash on 
Bulawayo as suicidal. But his luck was still with him and within 
little more than a month the Ndebele forces had been bloodily dis- 
persed; Lobengula was in flight, and the Company’s men were in 
Bulawayo. The details of the fighting need not concern us here, 
except to remark that in many ways the victory was deceptively 
easy. The Ndebele commanders displayed too great a military 
conservatism and their old tactics proved of no avail against 
modern firepower. ‘This campaign has gone right through in the 
most wonderfully lucky way for our side,’ wrote Selous to his 
mother. ‘The Matabele generalship has been abominably bad. 
They never did what they ought to have done or took advantage 
of their opportunities. Had the Matabele here made a determined 
opposition we could never have got through and probably should 
have met with disaster. ... So you see the campaign is virtually 
over and the fair-haired descendants of the northern pirates are in 
possession of the great King’s kraal and the calf of the black cow 
has fled into the wilderness.’ ‘I think you will agree with me’, 
wrote Rhodes to the High Commissioner on November 23rd, ‘that 

1 Harris to London Board, 4 Oct. 1893; Colenbrander to Harris, 11 Oct. 

1 893; Vigers to Harris, 20 Oct. 1893, LO 5/2/30. 


the matter is really over. Fancy the King in the bush in his wagon, 
drawn along by a few Bulawayo boys and deserted by all his royal 
regiments. It really is very sad.’ 1 

It has often been argued that this war was both inevitable and 
desirable. What concerns us here is Ndebele reaction to it. Loben- 
gula had gone to great, and in the view of many of his subjects to 
excessive, lengths to maintain peace. For what it was worth his 
position was undoubtedly the stronger in law, whether law as 
understood by the British or law as understood by the Ndebele. 
Yet he had been branded as an aggressor and war had been forced 
upon him. Of course the Ndebele had conquered many other 
peoples in their time and perhaps Selous had a valid point when 
he wrote that ‘no one knowing their abominable history can pity 
them or lament their downfall. They have been paid back in their 
own coin.’ But equally it was absurd to expect the Ndebele to see 
the victory of the Company in any other light than that so frankly 
cast by Selous himself — as the victory of the strongest set of pirates. 
Moreover, incidents such as the shooting of Lobengula’s envoys 
to the High Commissioner, and the stealing of the gold with which 
he made his last desperate effort to buy peace, whoever was 
responsible for them, left the Ndebele with a lasting sense of 
bitterness. Against such a background Rhodes’ cheerful optimism 
that most of the Ndebele were ‘naturally’ very happy to see the 
Company governing Matabeleland must appear fatuous to a 
degree . 2 

To the desire of the Ndebele to preserve institutions of which 
they were fiercely proud there was added, then, a deep resentment 
at the manner in which their state had been overthrown. And 
there was added, also, hatred of the system of administration 
actually set up by the conqueror. We must now examine the 
character of that administration. 

The war between the Company and Lobengula was accom- 
panied and followed by another contest, almost as sharply fought 
and with the same management of propaganda, between the 
Company and the Colonial Office. Having failed to prevent the 
war, the British Government were hopeful that they would be 
able to prevent the imposition on Matabeleland of the kind of 

1 Selous to his mother, 15 Nov. 1893, SE 1/1/1; Rhodes to Loch, 23 Nov. 
1893, LO 5/2/31. 

2 Selous to his mother, 15 Nov. 1893, SE 1/1/1. 


settlement for which the whites of Mashonaland were fighting. 
On October 23rd the Imperial Secretary told the Company that 
‘all negotiations with Lobengula are to be conducted by the High 
Commissioner and under his complete control’. There was an 
immediate and extravagant reaction. On the same day Harris 
wrote to tell Rhodes that there was a plot to deprive the Company 
of all powers in Matabeleland except the right to exploit minerals 
there; and Rhodes replied furiously that the ‘idea as to Loch’s 
wishing for administration at Bulawayo is so monstrous that I 
cannot believe it’. Within two days the press campaign was raging. 
The Cape Times of October 26th wrote of the High Commissioner 
seeking ‘to weaken the energies of our fellow colonists by holding 
up some spectre of a settlement in which neither they nor Mr 
Rhodes shall have any controlling voice or even any concern’. The 
Cape Argus fulminated against ‘Criminal Imperialism’. ‘Instead of 
allowing its subjects in this part of the world a chance of driving 
monsters like Lobengula over the Zambesi’, they wrote, Britain 
‘comes in on these wrong principles, and seems to be willing to 
protect a powerful Kaffir in the execution of his murders’. 1 

In their protests the Company stressed the expectations and 
deserts of the white volunteers who had taken Bulawayo and more 
than hinted that unless a settlement favourable to them was 
granted they would take matters into their own hands. On 
November 1st Harris cabled to congratulate the London Board ‘on 
this splendid news. Seeing we beat the Matabele single-handed 
and we have occupied Bulawayo, surely Marquis of Ripon will 
not rob Mr Rhodes settlement unaided of question as our whole 
future will depend upon this settlement and if Marquis of Ripon 
refuses people of Mashonaland they will demand it.’ Jameson 
wrote from the field of victory to say that ‘there can be no question 
but that Matabeleland is to be treated as a portion of Mashona- 
land lately occupied by the Matabele. . . . Should there be any 
Imperial interference in the Administration of Matabeleland I am 
sure every member of the column would feel personally aggrieved. 
... We have all the machinery for effective civil government as in 
Mashonaland and if interfered with it will lead to more than dis- 
content among the people.’ The indignant Cape Times asked 
whether the High Commissioner would be able ‘to impose terms 

1 Bower to Harris, 23 Oct. 1893; Harris to Rhodes, 23 Oct. 1893, Rhodes to 
Harris, 24 Oct. 1893; LO 5/2/30. 


distasteful to a community which has sent two thirds of its man- 
hood as volunteers to the front’. The paper darkly hinted that the 
British Government might find themselves faced with the necessity 
of crushing c a new Republic, which would cause more blood and 
treasure than the whole Matabele nation is worth’. 1 

The victory of Jameson and his men was in fact so complete that 
the British Government felt themselves to have no alternative but 
to agree to the extension of Company rule over Matabeleland. 
On November 4th the Colonial Office wrote to the London 
Board that ‘correspondence has hitherto proceeded upon the 
supposition that at the close of hostilities it would be practicable to 
open negotiations with Lobengula in his capacity as King, and to 
come to a settlement with him, representing the Matabele people. 
But the circumstances have now, to all appearances, materially 
altered owing to the success achieved by the forces of the British 
South Africa Company which has apparently resulted in the 
defeat of Lobengula and the destruction of his power.’ Under these 
circumstances the Government were prepared to allow ‘terms 
agreed by Mr Rhodes and High Commissioner and recommended 
by High Commissioner to British Government for confirmation’, 
as the London Board cabled on the same day. ‘Think the British 
Government are anxious to meet Mr Rhodes’ wish’, they added, 
‘but fear Radical members of parliament and press.’ 2 

Mr Rhodes’ wish was above all for a settlement which gave a 
free hand both to the Company and to the white volunteers. He 
went out of his way in a speech to the volunteers in Bulawayo on 
December 19th to promise an early land settlement — ‘It is your 
right for you have conquered the country.’ ‘What I want you to 
see,’ he told them, ‘is that really the mode of final settlement of the 
country will not be with Her Majesty’s Government, Dr Jameson 
or myself, but with you the first settlers and your representatives.’ 3 

The best that the High Commissioner could do was to attempt 
to protect Ndebele land and cattle from wholesale expropriation. 
He insisted that no final allocations of land and cattle should be 
made until the British Government had decided upon the ad- 
ministration of Matabeleland. And in the arrangement negotiated 
with Rhodes in May 1894 which became the basis of the Mata- 

1 Harris to London Board, 1 Nov. 1893; Jameson to Rhodes, 18 Nov. 1893, 
LO 5/2/31. 2 London Board to Harris, 4 Nov. 1893, LO 5/2/31. 

3 Cape Argos, 3 Jan. 1894. 



Victoria, B. C< 


belcland Order in Council of July 1894, provision was made for 
the establishment of machinery to protect Ndebele interests. This 
machinery was to take the form of a Land Commission, upon 
which the Imperial Government was to be represented, which 
would make provision for ‘land sufficient and suitable’ for Ndebele 
needs and for ‘cattle sufficient’. Until this Commission had re- 
ported no grants of land or cattle were to be made. 1 * * * 

The history of Company administration in Matabeleland in 
1894 and 1895 is largely the story of how these protective pro- 
visions of the Matabeleland Order in Council were flouted and 
evaded with regard both to land and to cattle. The rich agri- 
cultural and grazing land of the Ndebele home area had been one 
of the inducements offered to the volunteers under the Victoria 
Agreement, each man being given the right to peg out a farm of 
3000 morgen. The overthrow of the Ndebele, indeed, led to a 
veritable land rush. ‘There should be good immigration from the 
Colony and Transvaal this year,’ wrote one of the victors from 
Bulawayo in January 1894, ‘as the country has always been looked 
upon as a good country by all Dutchmen and the Matabele were 
no fools. 5 Quick fortunes were to be made by shrewd speculators in 
the days immediately following the conquest. Thus Hans Sauer 
tells us that his agent in Bulawayo bought up for less than £500 a 
number of volunteer farm pegging rights and then ‘pegged and 
located four large blocks running into very many thousands of 
acres’; this land, which ran from the Bulawayo commonage to the 
Matopos, was sold a few months later to Rhodes himself for 
£20,000. The Company was generous; there seemed land and 
enough to spare; and no one was particular about the surveying 
of the blocks pegged out. A later and more careful Administrator 
described what happened under Jameson; ‘The law has been 
entirely disregarded and surveyors have been employed privately 
to carve up the land at their discretion in accordance with the 
directions of their employers. 5 In circumstances such as these the 
High Commissioner’s injunction against any permanent settle- 
ment of land was too frail a barrier to enterprise. Jameson merely 

1 Matabeleland Order in Council, July 1894. Mason, op. cit. has a good 

account of the High Commissioner’s thinking on the problem of the adminis- 

tration of Matabeleland based on official sources. I have given here the situ- 

ation as it appeared to Rhodes and Harris in order to bring out the Company 

approach to the problem. 


replied with assurances that all his grants were provisional — ‘Jame- 
son found “provisional” a blessed word’, writes his biographer. 
‘He did all things provisionally— rewarding his followers with 
“provisional” farms and laying out three miles to the south of the 
royal kraal the “provisional” site of the “provisional” town of 
Bulawayo.’ 1 

But the ‘provisional’ character of Jameson’s grants did not 
prevent the Land Commission from being faced with a fait accompli 
which it and the British Government tamely accepted. ‘The Bri- 
tish South Africa Company has made numerous grants of land to 
Europeans in portions of the country where the natives formerly 
resided,’ reported the Commission in October 1894. ‘The un- 
allotted lands between these grants are small in extent and cannot 
be accurately ascertained.’ Therefore, they concluded, Reserves 
could not be established for the Ndebele in their old home land. 
On the other hand no grants of land had been made by the Com- 
pany to the north and the north east, where few Ndebele had pre- 
viously lived, and these areas, though too remote for the Com- 
mission to inspect thoroughly, they recommended as adequate and 
suitable Reserves. Their report was accepted by the High Com- 
missioner, who commented merely that the smaller area of land 
now allocated to the Ndebele instead of their old home would 
certainly be sufficient for them because so many of the MaHoli 
caste had deserted their old masters. 2 

It is important to realize precisely what had occurred. Literally 
the whole of the Ndebele home area had been given away in the 
few months which followed the conquest. A later member of the 
Native Department described the situation thus created. ‘The 
formerly dominant tribe of this territory, through whom the first 
titles to the territory were secured by whites . . . are, of all tribes, 
now in the worst position in respect of land. It is true that they 
were usurpers displaced by our usurpation but it is nevertheless an 
unfortunate fact that the premier native race whose organising 
power and gift for government enabled them to impose their will 
on the minor tribes, and whose inherent character must inevitably 

1 Gifford to Cawston, 14 Jan. 1894, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s.76; Milton 
to Rhodes, 8 Aug. 1898, ibid., s.228, C. 1; H. Sauer, Ex Africa, 1937; I. Colvin, 
Life of Jameson, London, 1912, Vol. 1. 

2 C. 8 1 jo, Matabeleland: report of the land commission of 1894 and correspondence 
relating thereto, 1896. 


establish their major influences for good or bad in the future 
development and happiness of our natives, should suffer from an 
ever increasing sense of dissatisfaction with the provision made for 
them in this regard. Their misfortune was in the first place their 
national predilection for the red and black loams which co-incided 
with the so-called shale formation. The quartz reefs occur here 
and again coincide with the pasturage which their judgement in- 
formed them was the best for their cattle. Within a few months 
of the European occupation practically the whole of their most 
valued region ceased to be their patrimony and passed into the 
private estate of individuals and the commercial property of 
companies. The whole of what the term “nga pakati kew lizwe” 
(the midst of the land) conveyed became metamorphosed . . . into 
alien soil and passed out of the direct control even of the Govern- 
ment. ... In the native concept Government and Ownership of 
land are indivisible. That land on which people live and have lived 
for generations can be purchased for money is a matter hard to be 
understood. White men of varied origin and race become in a day 
their landlords, their overlords, with power to dispossess and drive 
forth. To an aristocratic race the delegation of such power has 
appeared unseemly in many cases. The word “amaplazi” . . . 
meaning “farms” stands, it may be said, for almost all that is most 
distasteful in our rule. Almost it stands for helotage and servitude 
to a chance-made master.’ 1 

Land was given out so lavishly not only to reward the volunteers 
but also to give important sections of English society a stake in the 
success of the new Colony. Jameson was surrounded by a group of 
aristocratic young men of the class later described by Lord Grey as 
filled ‘with the jolly reckless spirit of adventure, which aimed at 
making a million in half an hour and then clearing home to 
Piccadilly’. The most important of these was Jameson’s unofficial 
military adviser in the march on Bulawayo, Sir John Willoughby, 
who had been used by the Company since 1890 to advertise the 
prospects of mining and agriculture in Rhodesia. Now Willoughby 
and the others received a lavish reward in the shape of very 
extensive grants of land to the companies and syndicates which 
they formed. In September 1896, William Milton, who had come 
up to reorganize the Rhodesian administration at Rhodes’ request, 
and who later became Administrator in his turn, commented in 
1 Superintendent of Natives, Bulawayo, to C.N.C., 1 June 1920, N 3/16/9. 


amazement at the methods of Jameson. ‘Everything official here is 
in an absolutely rotten condition,’ he wrote, ‘and will continue so 
until we can clear out the Honourable and military elements which 
are rampant everywhere and are evidently expecting to be re- 
warded with fat billets after the war. If they get them I am off. The 
country has been very nearly ruined by them already under the 
wing of Jameson, and if it is to continue the Imperial Government 
will be quite justified in stepping in.’ ‘Lady Dudley’s son,’ he 
continued, ‘a youngster of the la di da class, has just been sent up 
here probably with an expression of Jameson’s wish that half a 
county may be given to him. I can see that Rhodes is getting a bit 
sick and even Grey is beginning to see that Jameson has given 
nearly the whole country away to the Willoughbys, Whites and 
others of that class so that there is absolutely no land left which is 
of any value for settlement of immigrants by Government. It is 
perfectly sickening to see the way in which the country has been 
run for the sake of hob-nobbing with Lord this and the Honble 
that. I think Jameson must have been off his head for some time 
before the raid.’ 1 

Indeed, once the excitement of conquest had died down, it came 
to be seen that Jameson had damaged the interests of the Company 
as well as of the Ndebele by his generosity to the various white 
adventurers in Matabeleland. ‘Land was alienated in the most 
reckless manner’, wrote Milner, ‘to Companies and individuals. 
Now the Company — or in other words Rhodes and his principal 
agents — recognize this themselves. . . . They feel, what a mill stone 
they have tied round their necks with all these syndicates, holding 
thousands of square miles which they are doing nothing to develop.’ 
‘Land is our great difficulty,’ wrote Lord Grey on May 26th, 1897. 
‘It has all been given away. I will not give away another acre until 
the Native Question has been settled.’ 2 

And if the homeland of the Ndebele had thus been alienated, the 
Reserves allocated to them were profoundly unsuitable. In 1897 
the British Deputy Commissioner, Sir Richard Martin, who had 
not been asked to inquire into the Reserves for his report to the 
British Government, nevertheless raised the matter in corres- 
pondence with the High Commissioner. He reported that on 

1 Milton to his wife, 18 Sept. 1896, ML 1 / 1/2 

2 Milner to Chamberlain, 1 Dec. 1897, Headlam, op. cit., Vol. 1, pp. 139-46, 
Grey to Cawston, 26 May 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 77. 


looking into the question of the Reserves he was obliged to ‘refer 
rather unfavourably to the Report of the Land Commission’. The 
areas allocated to the Ndebele were ‘badly watered, sandy and 
unfit for settlement, therefore unsuitable for a native location’. The 
Land Commission, he wrote, should have recommended that land 
already pegged for whites be nevertheless set aside for the Ndebele. 
And although the Administrator, Lord Grey, fiercely contested 
Martin’s criticisms on other points, he privately admitted the 
complete justice of this one. ‘Unless we can provide a government 
farm or two in each Native Commissioner’s district,’ he wrote to 
Rhodes in May 1897, ‘Martin will insist upon an independent 
report by some Imperial officer as to the suitability of the Guai and 
Shangani Reserves for natives and it would be a nasty shock for us 
if a report were to come out at this time condemning the Guai and 
Shangani Reserves as wholly unsuitable for Native Locations. . . . 
An inquiry into the character of the Guai and Shangani Reserves 
will bring out the fact that they are regarded by the natives as 
cemeteries not homes.’ 1 

In fact the Ndebele almost universally refused to move into the 
Reserves, with the result that they found themselves living on 
private farms and therefore subject to rental charges, eviction, and 
so on. It is true that the full implications of this ‘helotage and servi- 
tude to a chance-made master’ were hardly grasped by 1896, since 
few of the white farms had been occupied and worked by the time 
the rising broke out. Nevertheless it was already fully appreciated 
that ‘the white man took from the Matabili the land, as they had 
taken it from the Maholi and the Mashonas’. And already clashes 
between the new owners and the Ndebele residents were occur- 
ring. As the senior induna, Gambo, protested at the indaba of June 
1897 ‘one cause of dissatisfaction and unrest is that after we have 
lived many years in a spot we are told that a white man has 
purchased it, and we have to go’. 2 

If the Land Commission proved totally ineffective as a protec- 
tion for Ndebele land rights, it did little more to ensure justice 
with regard to the great herds of cattle which had belonged to the 
Ndebele nation in 1893. Estimates of the numbers of cattle owned 
by the Ndebele before the war varied widely. The missionary, 

1 Martin’s Report, 12 Apr. 1897, Colonial Office, Confidential Prints. 
South Africa, No. 520, pp. 550 to 556; Grey to Rhodes, Rhodes House, Mss. 
Afr. s. 228, C. 1. 2 Bulawayo Chonicle, 26 June 1897. 


Carnegie, believed that there were some 280,000; the High Com- 
missioner thought there were some 200,000; Lord Grey suggested 
130,000. The highest figure was probably the most correct. 
Opinion also differed about the ‘ownership’ of the cattle. Some 
were said to be ‘owned’ by private individuals, others by the King. 
But there could be no disagreement about the importance of the 
cattle to the Ndebele nation as a whole. 

Mr Philip Mason has written that the question of cattle ‘was a 
matter which for any Bantu people lay very near that core of self 
respect without which a man or a people break down into degra- 
dation or desperate violence. Cattle were everywhere a prize to be 
captured or carried away in war as a sign of victory, but they were 
far more than that. Among the Mashona tribes — and many of the 
so-called Matabele by origin belonged to the Mashona group — 
cattle are often dedicated or vowed to an ancestor and regarded as 
held in trust for him. Among both Matabele and the Mashona . . . 
cattle are intimately connected with marriage and, when a woman 
leaves one group for another, cattle change hands and are usually 
distributed among her relations; cattle sustain the marriage as well 
as nourishing the holders with their milk; they may be handed 
back, or at least claimed, if there is a divorce. And among the 
Zulus, the Matabele and the Angoni, there was a kind of feudal 
network of cattle-holding; a rich man gave out his cattle to his 
feudal followers who used the milk but might not kill a beast 
without his sanction. The King’s cattle were spread far and wide 
among his people, held in varying degrees of vassalage.’ 

In such a situation the debate about the ‘ownership’ of the 
Ndebele cattle was bound to be an unreal one. As Afr Mason says 
‘among the Matabele, the King, an ancestral spirit, a married 
woman, an Induna, and the man who milked her, might have 
said of one beast: “This is my cow.” To decide who owned the 
cattle of the Matabele was not a tangle to unravel in a few weeks. 
One thing only is clear: the cattle were one of the strands that 
bound the Matabele people together, the way they were held 
contributing to the royal dominion, to the cult of the ancestors, 
and to the stability of marriage.’ 1 

The British Government was concerned to ensure that the 
Ndebele retained ‘enough’ cattle for their needs; the Company 
were concerned to exploit Ndebele cattle as a source of wealth and 

1 Mason, op. cit. 


patronage. Once again attempts were made to erect successful 
restraints; once again these attempts failed. The question was 
raised by the Colonial Secretary, Lord Ripon, on December ioth, 
1893. Referring to reports in the press that Ndebele cattle were 
being rounded up by the Company’s forces, Ripon wrote to the 
High Commissioner that he could not ‘approve the continued 
seizure of cattle from people who have ceased to offer any organ- 
ized or effective resistance’. Loch replied that he understood that 
only royal cattle were being seized. ‘Experience in former wars,’ 
returned Ripon, ‘especially in Zululand, shows that distinction 
between King’s cattle and people’s cattle is fallacious, all cattle 
being in some sense King’s. As I have already told you, Her 
Majesty’s Government attach importance to securing to Matabele 
ample cattle for their requirements; therefore it is necessary that 
sufficient cattle should be held in trust, out of any that may have 
been seized from whatever source, to ensure attaining that object.’ 
These interventions irked Rhodes and Jameson almost beyond 
endurance. In a private letter on December 25th Rhodes told 
Loch that Ripon’s inquiries were ‘really very annoying. ... As to 
cattle Lord Ripon is incorrect when he states that there are no 
King’s cattle and that the statement is a fiction; as a matter of fact 
there are King’s cattle. All I know is that whilst I was in Bulawayo 
natives constantly brought in cattle of their own accord stating 
that they were the King’s cattle; they would not be likely to do this 
with their own. However, we, the British South Africa Company, 
have been taking no cattle since I have been at Bulawayo, as we 
have given up patrolling for them and propose to leave King’s 
cattle for natives to take care of. I may state that the natives 
readily recognize that they have in charge a large number of 
cattle which they consider the King’s cattle; these are totally apart 
from those which are their own private property, but even the 
King’s cattle we propose to leave with the natives. ... I think 
Lord Ripon would be wise’, concluded Rhodes, ‘not to give cre- 
dence to every unauthorised telegram which he reads in the 
English press. . . . The Transvaal party are well aware of what the 
conquest of Matabeleland means to them and are naturally trying 
to cause friction if they can between myself and Her Majesty’s 
Government.’ 1 

1 Ripon to Loch, 10 Dec. 1893, 13 Dec. 1893, Blue Book C. y2go, Nos. 44 
and 53; Rhodes to Loch, 25 Dec. 1893, LO 5/2/32. 


On the strength of this letter and similar assurances from Jame- 
son, the High Commissioner told Ripon on January nth, 1894, 
that ‘the distinction’ between royal and private cattle ‘is clear’; 
that the Company were only laying claim to the former; that these 
royal herds could reasonably be regarded as ‘state funds’; and that 
in any case these cattle were being entrusted to the Ndebele 
kraals to keep and to milk. This state of affairs was approved by 
Ripon, on condition that the royal herds were regarded as a trust 
fund from which cattle could be drawn if it was later found that 
the ‘private’ cattle were not sufficient to Ndebele needs. A final 
settlement, as we have seen, was to be made by the Land Com- 

Now Rhodes’ letter was extremely disingenuous, to say the least. 
In practice the clear distinction on which he insisted between royal 
and private cattle was never observed. In the weeks after the war 
all cattle that could be collected were rounded up and brought 
into Bulawayo, and later those which were distributed to the 
kraals about Bulawayo or left in kraals in other areas were still 
regarded as Company property. Edwards tells us that in March 
1894 he asked the head clerk at the Magistrate’s office in Bulawayo 
‘whether it was necessary for me to have a permit to buy cattle 
from the natives. He was greatly astonished at my question. “Buy 
cattle? What do you mean? All the cattle in the country belonged 
to the King and now belong to the Chartered Company.” ’ By 
the time the Land Commission reported in October the distinction 
had disappeared even in theory. ‘It would be a most difficult if not 
impossible task to distinguish between “King’s” and private cattle,’ 
they reported, and this being so they recommended that all cattle 
in Matabeleland be regarded as belonging to the Company by 
right of conquest, the Company undertaking to make adequate 
allocation to the Ndebele. 1 

Nor was raiding for cattle long suspended. After the rains were 
over Jameson sent out large patrols in June 1894, one to the north, 
another to the south-east, and another to the west of Bulawayo, 
while small patrols were ‘continually moving through the veld’. 
Of the patrol to the west Jameson reported on June 28th that it 
had enlisted the co-operation of the local indunas ‘to help in the 
collection of the King’s cattle of which a good number have been 
brought in’. Indeed patrols were constantly searching out cattle 

1 Edwards’ reminiscences, ED 6 / 1 / 1 . 


from that time until the end of 1895, Native Commissioners and 
their police replacing the military patrols after October 1894, but 
the search going on. 1 

Nor were all the cattle collected put out for herding to Ndebele 
kraals pending a final settlement. The Victoria Agreement had 
laid it down that volunteers should have a share in the ‘loot’ taken 
in the conquest of Matabeleland and it was understood by every- 
one that the Ndebele cattle were included in that ‘loot’. Thus the 
Company established what were called ‘loot kraals’ for the recep- 
tion of a proportion of the cattle collected, these being managed 
by a ‘loot committee’. From these kraals cattle were either dis- 
tributed to volunteers or sold by auction, the proceeds being used 
for money payments instead. Little evidence survives on proceed- 
ings which were naturally not much publicized. But in the manu- 
script memoirs of John Meikle is to be found a story which well 
illustrates the manner in which the business of the Ndebele cattle 
was handled by the Company, at any rate immediately after the 
war. Meikle was in Fort Victoria with the Victoria defence force 
during the period of Jameson’s march on Bulawayo. Soon after the 
capture of Bulawayo, ‘news was brought into Victoria that the 
Mashonas were crossing over into Matabeleland and stealing 
the King’s cattle which were not being properly herded owing to 
the unsettled state of the country. It was arranged that each mem- 
ber of the column would be entitled to peg a farm in Matabeleland 
of six thousand acres and that they should participate in any loot 
taken. The King’s cattle were looked upon as loot and if this thiev- 
ing continued it would mean so much less for the members of the 
column. Consequently a wire was sent to Mr Rhodes explaining 
the position to which he replied offering half the cattle brought in 
to those who went out to collect them. I was invited to form one of 
a party of twelve.’ Meikle was soon in command of the patrol, the 
Captain of the Victoria defence force being ‘reduced to the ranks’ 
after a drunken quarrel. Under Meikle’s leadership they entered 
Matabeleland. They came to a large kraal and sent for the head- 
man. ‘I explained to him that we had been sent by Mr Rhodes to 
collect the King’s cattle and ordered all cattle to be brought to 
where we were camped. When they arrived I told them to pick out 
all cattle that belonged to them. This they did and out of about 
three hundred head they left one very old bull and one older cow, 
1 Jameson to Harris, 28 June 1894, LO 5/2/36. 


saying those were the King’s cattle. As a result of this we took the 
lot knowing full well that none of the cattle really belonged to 
them, that they were cattle they must have stolen and if not that 
had been left in their charge.’ ‘These natives were disposed to be 
rather nasty,’ Meikle adds. 

They then came to ‘a flat-topped hill’ on which was a large 
kraal. Meikle and one other climbed up and found there the 
commander and many of the members of an Ndebele regiment 
which had taken part in the Shangani fight. ‘After the Shangani 
fight he and his men had had enough of it and taking their women 
and all the cattle they could manage to drive, made for this out of 
the way almost inaccessible mountain, thinking they would be 
safe until things settled down again.’ There were some 900 war- 
riors there and some 600 head of cattle. ‘I asked the induna to let us 
have eighty of his men’, continues Meikle, ‘to assist in driving the 
cattle, promising to allow them to keep their goats, of which they 
had about a thousand head and to present each with a blanket on 
returning to Victoria.’ The induna agreed and Meikle set off with 
80 strapping young Ndebele warriors in his train. ‘They proved 
invaluable as drovers and herds for the cattle.’ After further ad- 
ventures they returned to Victoria with some 1500 cattle. ‘Each 
member received as his share 72 head. . . . Although 72 head of 
cattle seems a lot in actual money value it only represented about 
£150. Still, it was good money for less than three weeks’ work.’ 
And Meikle’s story ends characteristically: ‘A deputation came 
to say the members of the expedition wished me to pick two animals 
out of each one’s lot and buy myself something with the proceeds. 
This I refused to do so they had a ring made for me out of gold 
ornaments found at the Zimbabwe Ruins and inscribed “Matabele 
loot, 1893”.’ 1 

We may be sure that no word of this transaction reached the 
High Commissioner or Colonial Secretary. How many cattle were 
disposed of through the loot kraals or as rewards to patrols for 
bringing them in it is impossible to say. In 1897 the Acting Ad- 
ministrator of Matabeleland gave the figure of 30,000 as the 
number of cattle delivered to the loot committee. But we can be 
certain that many more than that found their way into private 
white hands. Some, indeed, were acquired by white adventurers in 
spite of rather than through the Company. In the first weeks after 

1 Meikle’s reminiscences, ME 1/1/1. 


I I I 

the overthrow of the King it was possible, as the High Commis- 
sioner reported, ‘for stray Europeans to help themselves’; and un- 
doubtedly there were a number of enterprising South Africans 
who managed to get ‘herds into the South African Republic’. The 
Magistrate at Tati reported in January 1894 that he had inter- 
cepted 300 ‘looted Matabele oxen’ being driven south but that 
many others had probably passed his patrols in the bush. And 
even when order was more or less restored the Company’s doc- 
trine that all cattle in the country belonged to them enabled un- 
scrupulous or innocent whites to buy cattle from the Ndebele at 
absurdly low prices and then to smuggle them into Mashonaland. 
Edwards tells us frankly of his own exploits in this line. Travelling 
to Bulawayo he was offered and bought a number of cattle at very 
low prices. Discovering in Bulawayo that all were supposed to 
belong to the Company, he hastily got himself a brand registered, 
branded all the cattle with it, and drove them into Mashonaland. 
‘We wished to get as far away as possible from the place where “all 
the cattle belonged to the Chartered Company” and where the 
custodians, or maybe rightful owners, of the same tempted you 
with cattle at prices which were hard to resist.’ 1 

In these various ways, together with Company requisitioning of 
cattle for ‘police rations’, large numbers of cattle had already been 
permanently removed from the Ndebele by the time that the Land 
Commission came to make its report in October 1894. Ripon’s in- 
junction that only royal cattle should be collected and that these 
should be held in trust until the decision of the Land Commission 
had certainly not been observed. In any case the Land Com- 
mission came to no decision; it could obtain no reliable figures 
either of the numbers of cattle still in Ndebele hands or of the 
numbers of Ndebele; it therefore recommended that ‘the British 
South Africa Company without delay appoint officials entrusted 
with the duty of exercising supervision over the natives, ascer- 
taining the number of natives and cattle on the Reserves, and 
periodically reporting to the Land Commission or Judicial Com- 
missioner . . . the results of their inquiries, in order that the 
Commission, or Judicial Commissioner . . . may give such direc- 
tions with regard to the delivery of cattle as may be considered 

1 Magistrate, Tati, to Imperial Secretary, 8 Jan. 1894; High Commissioner 
to Colonial Secretary, 16 Jan. 1894, Blue Book C. ?2go, Enel. 1 in No. 92 and 
No. 93. 


just’. After this report the commissions of the two non-judicial 
members were allowed to lapse and Judge Vintcent, the Judicial 
Commissioner, became solely responsible for the final settlement. 1 

The Commission’s recommendations were the genesis of the 
Native Department in Matabeleland, where the Department was 
as essentially a cattle collecting concern as the Department in 
Mashonaland was essentially a tax collecting one. The Cattle 
Regulations of October 1894 outlined the essential duties of the 
new Commissioners. They were to register every kraal, noting the 
number of inhabitants and the number of cattle. The cattle were 
to be branded with the Company’s brand and they were not to be 
sold or slaughtered without the permission of the Native Com- 
missioner. In other words, until the final distribution, most of the 
remaining cattle were to be left in Ndebele hands instead of 
gathered up into fresh loot kraals, but they were to be clearly the 
property of the Company. As if to emphasize this, regular 
‘draughts’ of cattle were made upon the kraals to meet the needs of 
the Company for ‘police rations’. In short the activities of the 
Native Commissioners were conceived more in the interests of 
the Company than in those of compiling accurate statistics. In 
May 1895 for instance there was some friction between Vintcent 
and the Company. Vintcent, perfectly properly, began to behave 
as if he intended to make the final award on his own initiative; held 
indabas with the Ndebele indunas; and seemed inclined to be more 
generous to them than the Company were prepared to accept. 
‘Re the telegram about Vintcent and the cattle,’ cabled Harris to 
the Acting Administrator, ‘C. J. says we cannot do anything 
publicly to get rid of him just now, or he would. As you know “the 
cattle” is a very tender spot for Vintcent to touch upon and he was 
furious about the indaba. ... I wired you that C. J.’s advice was to 
go on branding cattle as quickly as possible and then all we had to 
do in court would be to prove our brand.’ 2 

In the end the settlement was agreed more harmoniously be- 
tween Vintcent and the Chief Native Commissioner. The task of 
registration and branding was over by October 1895. It was found 
that there were at that time 74,500 head of cattle in African 
hands in Matabeleland. It was agreed that of these 40,930 should 

1 Report of the Land Commission, Oct. 1894. 

2 Harris to Acting Administrator, 24 May 1895, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 
25 - 


be allocated as private property to the Ndebele; 7000 should be 
driven to Mashonaland for sale at 50J. a head to ‘bona fide far- 
mers’; 17,020 should be similarly sold in Matabelcland; 8850 were 
to be reserved for the ubiquitous Sir John Willoughby; and 700 
held in the various districts for police rations. This settlement was 
announced to a gathering of some 200 indunas and headmen by the 
Chief Native Commissioner on November 29th, 1895. ‘They ex- 
pressed themselves as being highly pleased with the terms and 
desired Mr Taylor to convey their thanks to the Administrator.’ 1 

It is hard to see what the indunas had to be pleased about. 40,930 
cattle were left in Ndebele hands — a very considerable drop from 
280,000 or even from 200,000. Where had the rest gone? The 
Company admitted that 30,000 had gone to the loot committee 
and 19,450 for police rations, in addition to the 33,570 allocated to 
the Company in November 1895. This amounted to a total of 
some 124,000. The remainder, as many again if we accept Car- 
negie’s figures, were unaccounted for. Some went the way of the 
cattle acquired by Meikle; others the way of the cattle acquired by 
Edwards. But wherever they went it amounted to a disastrous loss 
for the Ndebele. Moreover, the 40,930 cattle which were actually 
distributed as private property were distributed in a manner 
which increased resentment. The Land Commission had noted 
that the Company were prepared to give cattle to ‘the leading 
indunas ’; Vintcent later said that in the final settlement ‘the more 
deserving indunas and headmen’ got cattle. It looks very much as if 
the share-out was used to reward ‘loyalty’ rather than to meet the 
needs of the Ndebele in general. 

To complete the picture of what this forfeiture of cattle meant to 
the Ndebele we must note here that the share-out was almost 
immediately followed by a natural disaster which was in no way 
the Company’s fault. No sooner had cattle been allocated than 
Native Commissioners were having them shot to prevent the 
spread of the rinderpest. A figure which will bring home more 
strikingly than anything else the magnitude of the disaster suffered 
by the Ndebele is that given by Sir William Milton in a letter of 
1902. In 1893 the Ndebele alone had possessed some 200,000 
cattle or more; in 1897, after the forfeitures, the rinderpest and the 
risings, there were only 13,983 head of cattle in African hands in 
the whole of Rhodesia. As Mason writes, ‘Matabele society was 
1 Secretary, Bulawayo to Secretary, Gape Town, 13 Dec, 1895, LO 5/2/46. 


disrupted by tearing out one of the most binding strands in the 
whole fabric.’ 1 

This account of the handling of Ndebele land and cattle brings 
out the atmosphere of the Company administration of Matabele- 
land, and incidentally shows how ill-founded were claims that 
Company rule had brought to the Ndebele the benefits of secure 
private ownership. We must now look at ‘Native administration’ 
in more general terms. We have seen that a Native Department 
was set up in Matabeleland towards the end of 1894. What was the 
machinery for intervention in and control of Ndebele affairs before 

For most of 1894 the administration of Matabeleland amounted 
to frank military despotism by Jameson’s white police. We should 
not compare this period with 1891 in Mashonaland and with 
Pennefather’s police activities; there, as we have seen, the com- 
mander of the police was mainly concerned with establishing 
legitimate treaty rights with the Shona paramounts and with 
initiating trade with them. Matabeleland on the other hand was a 
conquered country which meant that the police were deliberately 
attempting to break up various features of traditional life — such as 
the regimental kraals — in a way that never happened prior to 1896 
in Mashonaland. In Mashonaland there was never any attempt 
before the risings to disarm the Shona; even after the Matabele- 
land Order in Council no one in Mashonaland was quite sure that 
they had the authority to do it. In Matabeleland any African seen 
with a gun could be shot on sight. Moreover, Matabeleland was 
only imperfectly conquered for most of 1894. Swift and complete 
though the Company’s victory had been at the centre, the collapse 
of the Kingship had left confusion and disorder everywhere and 
especially in the outlying districts. As late as June 1894 Jameson 
and Harris were arguing that the country could ‘be considered to 
be, in the outlying districts, more or less in a state of war. . . .In- 
dividual Matabeles, owing to the cessation of the King’s rule were 
taking advantage of the inter-regnum and were behaving in a 
lawless and violent manner.’ Administration in 1894, then, was 
administration by police patrol and if necessary with summary 
executions by martial law. 2 

Such methods, however, could only suppress disorder and not 

1 Milton to Rhodes, 25 Jan. 1902, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1. 

2 Harris to London Board, 4 July 1894, LO 5/2/36. 


fill the vacuum left by the overthrow of the King. In February 
1894 a percipient British officer reported to the High Commis- 
sioner that there was an urgent need for the appointment of 
executive and judicial officers. ‘Up to the present’, he wrote, ‘there 
has been a Magistrate appointed for Bulawayo; with the increasing 
number of white persons in the country it will be impossible for 
this official alone ... to properly attend to his office work and at 
the same time carry out the work that heretofore has been done by 
the King. The result will be that the natives, finding their little 
cases not attended to, will turn to their Indunas, thereby increasing 
their influence rather than lessening it. ... I would suggest the 
appointment of one head native commissioner to reside at Bula- 
wayo, who should hear and decide civil cases where natives alone 
are concerned, with 4 or 5 other native commissioners settled in 
various parts of the country.’ These recommendations were not 
followed. A Native Commissioner was, indeed, appointed but his 
tasks were certainly not those of the head of a department or a 
civil judge. Johan Colenbrander, who had acted as the Company’s 
agent in Bulawayo under Lobengula, now became Native Com- 
missioner; throughout 1894 he was active accompanying police 
patrols, negotiating surrenders, seeking out cattle and so on. But no 
system of regular Native administration was set up other than 
Jameson’s promise to leading indunas in June 1894 that he would 
establish permanent police posts at Bulawayo, Shiloh, Inyati, 
Gwelo, Mapondine, Fig Tree and Mangwe, through which com- 
plaints could be forwarded. 1 

Not very much evidence survives of the character of this mili- 
tary regime, which was actively directed by the Bulawayo Magis- 
trate, the bitterly hated Heyman. But every now and then it came 
into contact with the more regular regime in Mashonaland and in 
the shocked reactions of the latter we can get some glimpse of the 
state of affairs in Matabeleland in 1894. Thus on December 10th 
1894, the newly appointed Native Commissioner, Fort Victoria, 
reported that 5 kraals in his district had been raided by Ndebele. 
On investigation it proved that the Ndebele had been given arms 
and led on the raid by two Europeans, one a farmer ‘who had 
some cattle stolen’ and the other a Police Trooper. ‘30 assegais 
were given to the Matabele’, reported the Commissioner, ‘and the 
party proceeded to the district named and burned out 4 kraals 
1 Goold Adams to High Commissioner, 22 Feb. 1894, LO 5/2/34. 


besides i in which the stolen cattle were found. Large quantity of 
grain destroyed; 3 women taken . . . about 300 sheep and goats 
were taken and 82 head cattle. Police state that kraals were 
destroyed because natives had arms in their possession . . . the 
natives are mostly Makalangas and have not been warned to dis- 
arm. I suggest that Police be instructed to recover what cattle, 
sheep and goats they can and forward to Victoria where I could 
distribute them among natives who have suffered. On my inter- 
viewing the Police both at Selukwe and Iron Mine on the above 
matter I was informed that they were acting under orders from 
Captain Heyman and Captain White to the effect that they were 
not to take any notice of myself as Hut Tax collector for the dis- 
trict as I had merely to collect the Hut Tax and had nothing 
whatever to do with them.’ This report was richly ironical con- 
sidering the origins of the Ndebele war in a raid on the Karanga 
of the Victoria district. 1 

Almost equally ironical was the report of the new Native Com- 
missioner, Hartley, in December 1894 that ‘the Matabele were 
raiding Mashona villages along the Umfuli, Inyati and Sanyati 
rivers, low down towards the Zambesi’. On investigating the 
matter he found that the Ndebele raiders were collecting tribute 
from the Shona and that they were in possession of certificates from 
Colenbrander reading: ‘The bearer is to collect tribute from the 
natives on the Zambesi and Inyati according to the custom of the 
country and to bring it to me.’ 2 

The formation of the Native Department at the end of 1894 
might have corrected the obvious faults of this military system, 
replaced arbitrary private and police action with a regular system 
of administrative control, and provided the machinery of contact 
and communication between the Ndebele and the Company 
government. It failed to do so for much the same reasons that 
made the Mashonaland Native Department under Brabant so 
unsatisfactory. Just as the Mashonaland Department was kept 
busy until the end of 1895 collecting the hut tax so that they had no 
time for studying or administering their districts, so the Mata- 
beleland Native Commissioners were kept busy registering, brand- 
ing and distributing cattle almost right up to the rising itself. Just 
as the Mashonaland Department was handicapped by small num- 

1 N.C., Victoria, monthly report, Dec. 1894, A 15/1 [\ . 

2 N.C. Hartley, to C.N.C., 20 Dec. 1894, N 1/1/3 . 

I The British South Africa Company arrives in Mashonaland, 1890. 
The Pioneer column is shown here moving through Shona kopje 
country. This contemporary drawing is based on a sketch by the first 
Administrator of Mashonaland, Archibald Colquhoun. 

Ih^*, - v '»~ - ^ 

flu ii 

> \ 

WhtiJSfr ‘ 1 

'Cwr ^ T/‘ 

y AT HS* 

II A Company view of an Nclebele raid upon the Shona. This 
contemporary drawing was used as part of the preparation of public 

opinion for the war of 1893. 


bers and lack of experience so the Department in Matabeleland 
was similarly under-staffed and under-qualified. A correspondent 
to the Bulawayo Chronicle in January 1897 summed up the work of 
the Department justly enough. ‘After the campaign of 1893’, he 
wrote, ‘a native policy was gradually formed by the Government. 
It was a lax and crude policy, and depended too much upon the 
individuals who were ordained to carry it out. The districts were 
too large and the native commissioners too few for the system to 
work well. They were supposed to be thoroughly acquainted with 
all the natives in their particular districts, which was in most cases 
humanly impossible. Many of them were young men, almost boys 
in fact, and young men are not reverenced by the native mind. 
Most of them had pastoral and household duties to perform which 
occupied no small portion of their time. The formation of two 
large reserves was talked about but was never carried out. The 
best of policies would have failed under similar conditions.’ There 
is a good deal of evidence to suggest that working in the atmo- 
sphere of conquest and faced with these great difficulties too many 
of the Matabeleland Native Commissioners behaved in an over- 
bearing and sometimes brutal way. More important still was the 
lack of contact or guidance. As the distinguished South African 
leader, Tengo Jabavu, wrote after a visit to Matabeleland in 1897 
the absence of a trusted intermediary with government was a main 
‘cause of the last rebellion and may be the cause of others in the 
future. . . . There is ample ground to show that misunderstanding 
pure and simple of European methods of government occasioned 
such friction as to compel the poor, ignorant people without 
enlightened advisers, to surrender to despair and even wish to be 
exterminated.’ 1 

As in Mashonaland the Native Commissioners came to depend 
upon their African police. But the Matabeleland force was a much 
more organized and formidable affair than the disparate levies 
of Mashonaland. The Company’s first intention was to recruit 
Zulu police but the Natal Government ‘entertained the strongest 
objections to Mr Rhodes’ proposals’ and minuted that they con- 
sidered ‘that the proposal would tend to keep alive the military 
instincts and habits which made the Zulu nation so formidable a 
menace in the past’. The Company, curiously unconcerned about 

1 Letter by ‘Politicus’, Bulawayo Chronicle, 23 Jan. 1897; Cape Times, 22 Nov. 


keeping alive the military habits of the Ndebele, then recruited its 
police from among the warriors of Lobengula’s old regiments. The 
Matabeleland Native Police, as described in a report of August 
1895, were ‘composed solely of Matabeles’. They contained ‘a 
great many of the Imbesu and Inoukumini Regiments, the late 
Lobengula’s two crack regiments’. They were drilled for a month 
at Bulawayo, picking up military discipline ‘wonderfully quickly’ 
and becoming ‘fair shots’, and were then sent out in June 1895 to 
the Native Commissioner’s stations. ‘The duties of the Matabele- 
land Native Police’, ran the report, ‘are to assist Native Com- 
missioners in the various districts in collecting labour, arresting 
deserters, procuring evidence in native cases, police and detective 
work generally.’ Native Commissioners were enthusiastic about 
their new assistants. ‘Native labour is much more plentiful and 
they have also been very useful in branding cattle, tracing hidden 
cattle, etc.’ 1 

After the rising an odd attempt was made to present the estab- 
lishment of this police force as a liberal act on the Company’s 
part, the first stage of a sort of Home Rule policy for Matabeleland. 
‘The Company meant well and intended to put them in charge of 
their own people?’ asked the Chairman of the Bulawayo inquiry 
into the risings in December 1896. ‘It was a recognition by the 
Government that the Matabele should have their own control? 
The Company meant to make these men rulers of their own 
country?’ This was a gallant attempt to retrieve total disaster since 
in every possible way the Matabeleland Native Police had proved 
to be a mistake. Given the same sort of free hand to trace hidden 
cattle and to recruit labour that the Native Messengers enjoyed in 
Mashonaland, they became the tyrants of the countryside, ‘more 
like a brigandage’ than a police force, as one witness answered the 
Chairman’s inquiries. There is overwhelming evidence of the 
hatred with which they were regarded by the Ndebele generally. 
But they were a mistake also because the training they had re- 
ceived had not only kept alive Ndebele military habits but had 
brought them up to date, so that when many of the police deserted 
to the rebels they carried effective military knowledge with 
them. ‘I hear some of the Matabele police deserted to their own 
people,’ wrote Lord Grey in March 1896. ‘I cannot help liking 

1 Minute by the Prime Minister, Natal, 19 July 1894, LO 6/2/36; Report 
by Col. F. Rhodes, 9 Aug. 1895, LO 5/2/44. 


them for that. I should have done the same thing had I stood in 
their place. The fault lies with us for having employed natives to 
police the people in their own district. The right principle is that 
followed by Caesar when he kept England quiet with a legion 
raised from the Danube and the Danube quiet with a British 
legion.’ 1 

These police were specially active in recruiting labour. In Mata- 
beleland before the rising exactly the same attitudes prevailed and 
exactly the same methods were used as in Mashonaland though 
with a greater frankness and force. Before the formation of the 
Native Department there was private pressing of labour and 
police raiding for it as in Mashonaland; the patrol to the west in 
June 1894 brought in 500 or so workers, though Jameson insisted 
that all had come voluntarily. Later, as we have seen, the Mata- 
beleland Native Police ensured that labour became ‘much more 
plentiful’. How the system worked under the Matabeleland Native 
Department was described frankly by the Chief Native Com- 
missioner, Taylor. ‘The labour necessary to meet the requirement 
of the country generally and the mining community in particular’, 
he wrote, ‘was in the first instance procured through the indunas 
and headmen. I know of no physical force being used to compel 
indunas to procure labour. Labour was procured from the indunas 
through the police and the natives received a fair wage. “Holes” or 
lower class natives were used principally. The higher class native 
— the “Abezansi”— had a great antipathy to labour which they 
considered to be derogatory. The hard earned wage of the “Hole” 
was often taken by his former owner in the Abezansi section. 
Much discontent was thus caused and as the demand for labour in 
the mining districts increased it was deemed advisable to call upon 
the Abezansi to contribute their share to the labour. In many in- 
stances they refused to do so arguing that their slaves should earn 
money for them. This condition of semi-slavery could not be 
tolerated by a civilized government and in order to deal equally 
with all classes the young men of the Abezansi were called upon to 
work for two months in the year. This they refused to do on the 
grounds of their former argument. In some cases the Native 
Police had to call out some of the young men to work. They were 
brought before the Native Commissioner and handed over to a 
Master to whom they were registered for a specified term and 
1 Lord Grey to his wife, 23 Mar. 1896, GR 1/1/1. 


wage. Many natives however worked voluntarily.’ Forced labour, 
wrote the Native Commissioner, Gwelo, did exist ‘to the extent 
that supply was not equal to the demand. The effect upon the 
natives, who are naturally very idle . . . was to make them shy and 
very difficult to be got at.’ 

There is evidence, also, that conditions of work were not good. 
Carnegie, thoroughly disillusioned by the white rule he had wel- 
comed in 1893, wrote: ‘A proud and hitherto unconquered Mata- 
bele cannot be turned in a month, or a year, into a useful servant 
by kicks, sjambok and blows. You cannot civilize him by quarrel- 
ling with him a few days before his pay is due, by stoning or un- 
justly beating him, by cursing him for not understanding an order 
given in English, by being too kind to him. . . . The wrong men 
were often chosen for handling such raw material. . . . The whole 
question of native policy has been left since the war in an un- 
settled and, therefore, most unsatisfactory condition.’ 1 

Enough has now been said to show that Sir Richard Martin was 
undoubtedly correct to find that ‘a strong and able Native ad- 
ministration’, capable of protecting Ndebele interests, had not 
been established in Matabeleland, and that ‘in the general excite- 
ment caused by the rush for gold, and other interests in the coun- 
try, the cause of the Natives did not receive the attention from the 
Government that it deserved’. How, then, did the Ndebele react 
to this mixture of misadministration and maladministration? We 
are fortunate in possessing a full statement of the Ndebele case 
made in August 1896 by the senior induna, Somabulana, at the 
famous indaba with Rhodes, and recorded by the journalist Stent, 
who was one of the four whites present. 

Like this book, Somabulana’s oration began with a discussion of 
Ndebele history, passed on to the relations between Lobengula 
and the whites, and finished with the story of the Company 
administration in Matabeleland. All seemed to the old man to be 
equally relevant. After narrating the first flight and wanderings of 
the Ndebele, Somabulana told how they had arrived in the country 
of the Rozwi; how they had hoped that they had at last ‘won for 
themselves a home where they might grow fat and prosperous and 
live in peace amongst their herds, their women and their children’. 
He described Mzilikazi’s wars and raids. Then ‘Lobengula, Prince 
“driven by the wind”, came to the throne of his father. The 
1 Evidence given to Sir Richard Martin, Blue Book c. 8547. 


Barotse were taught respect for the children of the Great House 
of Kumalo, and excepting for occasional expeditions to hunt or 
punish, all was peace in the land. But still it was not to be. The 
white man looked north and saw that there was gold upon the 
plains, which the Matabili had come to with so much blood and so 
many tears. Well, King Lobengula knew the power and strength 
of the white man, honoured the white queen, and desired no 
quarrel. So when there came emissaries and ambassadors, begging 
concessions and presents of land, and rights to mine, begging upon 
their knee, squatting low before the great King, Lobengula met 
them as a brother; killed beasts for them; extended hospitality; 
sent young maidens to them, and gave them half his kingdom. So 
the white men came with their rifles and they sat down in that half 
of the kingdom which had been given them to mine in, to take 
away the gold; and when the gold was finished to take themselves 
away with it. Three short years after the Mashonas gave trouble 
again. The Mashonas were Lobengula’s subjects, and the white 
men had no business with the Mashonas, to protect them or 
shield them from the King’s justice. So impis had to be sent to 
punish these Mashonas, and they had collided with the white 
man. And then the white man had come again with his guns 
that spat bullets as the heavens sometimes spit hail, and who were 
the naked Matabili to stand up against these guns and rifles? 
So the white man took from the Matabili the land as they had 
taken it from the Maholi and the Mashonas. And their King had 
been driven into exile. He had sent presents of gold, a peace 
offering, and the presents were taken and the peace was refused 

Then Somabulana turned to the time of conquest. c He spoke of 
the last days of the hunted King; and then of the final settlement 
of the land, and the appointment of native commissioners and 
magistrates, and his face grew dark as he told a shameful tale. . . . 
The Maholi and the Mashona, he said, what are they? Dogs! 
Sneaking cattle thieves! Slaves! But we, the Amandabili, the sons 
of Kumalo, the Izulu, Children of the Stars; we are no dogs! You 
came, you conquered. The strongest takes the land. We accepted 
your rule. We lived under you. But not as dogs! If we are to be dogs 
it is better to be dead. You can never make the Amandebele dogs. 
You may wipe them out . . . but the Children of the Stars can 
never be dogs.’ Somabulana then spoke of the treatment meted 


out to them; he spoke ‘of the brutality of the Zulu police, who 
ravished their daughters and insulted their young men, who 
tweaked the beards of their chieftains and made lewd jokes with the 
elder women of the Great House, who respected none but the 
Native Commissioner and officers of police’; he spoke of Captain 
Heyman, Magistrate of Bulawayo, who had ‘managed somehow 
to anger and insult nearly every one of the chiefs’. ‘I myself once 
visited Bulawayo,’ said Somabulana. ‘I came to pay my respects 
to the Chief Magistrate. I brought my indunas with me, and my 
servants. I am a chief. I am expected to travel with attendants and 
advisers. I came to Bulawayo early in the morning, before the sun 
had dried the dew, and I sat down before the Court House, 
sending messages to the Chief Magistrate that I waited to pay my 
respects to him. And so I sat until the evening shadows were long. 
And then ... I sent again to the Chief Magistrate and told him 
that I did not wish to hurry him in any unmannerly way; I would 
wait his pleasure; but my people were hungry; and when the 
white men visited me it was my custom to kill that they might eat. 
The answer from the Chief Magistrate . . . was that the town was 
full of stray dogs; dog to dog; we might kill those and eat them if 
we could catch them. So I left Bulawayo that night; and when next 
I tried to visit the Chief Magistrate it was with my impis behind 
me; no soft words in their mouths; but the assegai in their hands. 
Who blames me?’ He told of how the ‘tax-collectors, collecting 
the Company’s cattle, shot four women in cold blood when 
there was peace, because the women would not tell them 
where the cattle were hidden’; of the arbitrary acts of the Native 
Commissioners . 1 

‘Somabulana’s statement was ex parte,’ writes Stent. ‘But we 
had an uneasy feeling that at any rate some part of it was true; 
that shocking things had been done; that the Native Commis- 
sioners had not been the friends of the people, but their unsym- 
pathetic overlords — tyrannical and unjust; that the police had been 
brutal.’ How far the statement was true we can to some extent 
check against the account given in this chapter. But what is more 
important is that it was a statement of what the Ndebele believed 
to be true; an expression of their essential attitude. Stent tells us 
that ‘the recital of their national history and what they considered 

1 Colenbrander, who was also present at the indaba, confirmed the story 
of the shooting of the four women. 


to be their wrongs’ stirred the Ndebele who were listening to 
Somabulana ‘to the very core’. 1 

There are some indications to show us how the Ndebele, 
inspired by these feelings, moved into a determination to rebel. By 
an apparent paradox there was not in Matabeleland the wide- 
spread armed resistance to white administration which we have 
seen among the un-warlike Shona. The explanation of the paradox 
is, of course, a simple one. As Marshall Hole later wrote: ‘The 
Matabeles were a fighting nation by descent and had already 
measured weapons with us’, while the Shona were ‘a race who 
have never been conquered, never even been warred against’. The 
Shona paramounts regarded themselves as still independent; the 
Ndebele indunas had had to accept the humiliations of conquest. 
This meant that between the 1893 war and the outbreak of the 
1896 rebellion there was no instance of any Ndebele resistance by 
force to confiscation of cattle or compulsion of labour. But under- 
neath the apparent acceptance there was movement to resistance. 2 

From the first the conquered Ndebele strove to protect their 
threatened institutions by the re-establishment of the Kingship. 
‘Ever since the late King’s death’, wrote Carnegie, ‘the natives 
have been, as they say, “longing for a fire at which to warm them- 
selves”; in other words, they wanted a King, with whom they 
could be more in touch than they found themselves with the white 
government. One abortive attempt was made to accomplish this, 
but failed; later on the Government suggested appointing a Native 
who should be their inter-mediary between the Natives and the 
Government, but their nominee was unacceptable.’ Meetings held 
by the Ndebele indunas to discuss the kingship issue alarmed the 
administration and resulted in punitive action; in 1894 the senior 
induna Sikombo ‘was punished . . . for illicitly convening a meeting 
of chiefs’; in 1895 Lobengula’s brother, Mabele, ‘was banished for 
holding an illegal council of indunas’. By the end of 1895 it was 
clear that no restoration of the Kingship could be hoped for within 
the framework of the Company administration and that the 
Ndebele ‘way of life’ could only be preserved by flight or resistance. 
Early in 1896 another of Lobengula’s brothers, called by Carnegie 
Usipampamu, trekked with his wives and followers out of the 
Company’s area of control northwards across the Zambesi, hoping 

1 De Vere Stent, A Personal Account of Some Incidents in the Life of Cecil Rhodes, 
Cape Town, 1924. 2 Hole, Report, 29 Oct. 1896, A 1/12/26. 


to find a place there to re-create the Ndebele state. Most other 
members of the royal family and the regimental commanders were 
coming rather to the conclusion that they must fight. All that was 
needed was an opportunity — and in January 1896 that was given. 
News came that Jameson, on his last and fatal gamble, had led the 
great majority of the white police of Rhodesia into defeat and 
capture in the Transvaal. 1 

From that moment it is clear that a rising was decided upon. In 
February meetings of indunas took place to prepare plans. On 
February 19th the Acting Administrator, Judge Vintcent, wired 
that reports had come in that ‘several Matabele indunas have held 
meetings in the Matoppo Hills near Usher’s farm and that they 
are massing with a view to raiding Bulawayo, stating that in conse- 
quence of capture of Dr Jameson’s force the town is unprotected’. 
In Mashonaland friendly Shona warned whites that Ndebele 
emissaries had visited their kraals promising ‘to give the country to 
them (the Mashonas) if they would help them against the English- 
men. ‘These boys say that the Matabili know that there are only a 
few men here and no guns (maxims) . . . also that the Matabili 
have been waiting for an opportunity to pounce down on Salisbury 
and Bulawayo for months. These boys say further that there are 
immense numbers of Matabili ready to come down on the towns at 
once. These boys are absolutely reliable.’ 2 

Reliable they proved to be, but little notice was taken of them. 
The whites were still lulled by their extraordinary sense of security. 
Vintcent thought the rumours of hostile meetings in the hills im- 
possible to believe. ‘I cannot credit this as reports last month, after 
natives knew of the Doctor’s capture, were that natives quiet and 
pleased at our giving back to them portion of the Matabele 
cattle.’ Most of the settlers were as complacent, though a few were 
affected by the palpable tension like the group of farmers who went 
into laager a week before the rising and were persuaded out again 
by their Native Commissioner. More representative of general 

1 Carnegie, evidence submitted to Sir Richard Martin, June 1896, C. #547; 
The Times , 2 April 1896; Report by C.N.C., 19 June 1896, PO 1 /2/2. Lewanika 
gave the royal fugitive asylum. On 25 May 1896 he replied to a demand by the 
A.C.N.C. that he should be returned: ‘As for Sibamubamu, the king says he 
cannot give him over to you as he took refuge in this country and was received 
before they knew he had fled.’ A 3/18/18/5. 

3 Vintcent to Acting Secretary, Cape Town, 13 Feb. 1896, LO 5/2/47; 
L. H. Gabriel to ‘my dear Sir Thomas’, 27 Mar. 1896, A 1/12/27. 


white feeling was a man like W. A. Jarvis, one of the aristocratic 
adventurers connected with Sir John Willoughby’s enterprises. 
Jarvis, whom the catalogue of the Central African Archives 
accurately calls ‘a cast iron Tory’, had been a Tory member of 
parliament, and had come out to Rhodesia to inspect the pro- 
perties of Willoughby’s Consolidated and to take part in the Tun’ 
in the Transvaal. Writing to his mother, Lady Jarvis of Middleton 
Towers, after the unexpected fiasco of the Jameson Raid, Jarvis 
showed a concentration upon rivalry with the Boers and a dismissal 
of any danger from the Ndebelc which was characteristic of the 
circle around Jameson. As loyal as ever to Jameson — ‘Mother is 
quite right in comparing the Doctor to Gordon,’ he wrote sig- 
nificantly. ‘He seems to have just the same magnetic attraction but 
is not a lunatic like Gordon’ — he was still determined that ‘we 
have got to have ’ the Transvaal. ‘We are quite ready to hold our 
own in this country,’ he wrote from Bulawayo in February 1896. 
‘There was a rumour of a possible rising amongst some of the 
tribes in the Matoppo Hills but that was of course all moon-shine.’ 
‘This is grand country,’ he wrote less than a month before the 
rising, ‘exceeding my most sanguine expectations. It is undoubtedly 
very rich and fertile. The natives are happy, comfortable and 
prosperous and its future must be magnificent . . . everything is 
going smoothly and well and all of us, black and white, are quite 
ready to “go for” the Transvaal.’ Thirty years later, freed from 
these illusions, Jarvis realized that there had in fact been many 
portents of the coming storm; ‘but notwithstanding all these por- 
tents, we white men pursued our daily tasks for the early develop- 
ment of the “promised land” without giving a moment’s thought 
to the volcano upon which we were sitting’. 1 

‘The whole population was lulled into a false sense of security,’ 
wrote a later Rhodesian Chief of Staff. ‘There was no intelligence 
section to sift information and all warnings given by local natives 
were disregarded. There was no system by which settlers could be 
warned of impending trouble and concentrated in places of safety. 
No one knew where to rally.’ In all Matabeleland there were only 
48 white police. Thus the whites were totally unprepared when 
the Ndebele abandoned soft words in March 1896 and came to 
Bulawayo with assegais in their hands. 2 

1 Jarvis to Lady Jarvis, 24 and 29 Feb. 1896, JA 4/1 / 1 ; Jarvis, Jottings from 
an Active Life, London, 1928. 2 George Parsons, Staff Study, PA 1 /1/2. 

4. Matabeleland in 1896 


The Outbreak and Organization of the 
Rebellion in Matabeleland 

In March 1896 the gentle and idealistic Albert, Lord Grey, was 
travelling through South Africa on his way to take over the 
Rhodesian administration as successor to Jameson. Grey had 
accepted the post out of loyalty to Rhodes; it had been his hope, 
as we have seen, that Company rule would attract by its justice 
African peoples outside the borders of Rhodesia, and now he was 
setting out to try to achieve this in the difficult circumstances 
created by the Jameson Raid. It was, as he knew, an immense 
task. T have been oppressed with a feeling of dread that I may have 
taken up a burden I may not have strength to carry, 5 he confessed 
to Lady Grey on March 23rd, ‘and that whatever I do as Ad- 
ministrator is sure to be wrong. 5 On March 24th Grey’s ‘new 
kingdom 5 blew up. On that day the first white was murdered in the 
Umzingwani district of Matabeleland. ‘From the Mzingwani 5 , ran 
a later account, ‘the rebellion spread through the Filabusi and 
Insiza districts to the Shangani River and Inyati and thence to the 
mining camps in the neighbourhood of the Gwelo and Ingwenya 
Rivers. 5 Whites were attacked also in the Shona-speaking district 
of Belingwe. ‘By the evening of March 30th not a white man was 
left alive in the outlying districts of Matabeleland whilst the sur- 
vivors were confined to the laagers of Bulawayo, Gwelo, Belingwe 
and Tuli. Between these two dates many escaped or were brought 
into the laager by relief parties, but a large number, one hundred 
and forty five in all, were treacherously murdered. 5 

By the beginning of April rebel impis were beginning to close in 
on Bulawayo; ‘it was found that the small patrols which issued 
from Bulawayo were unable to hold their ground against the rebels 
and were compelled after every encounter to retire 5 . By the middle 
of April Bulawayo was invested on all sides except the south-west 
by strong rebel forces. On April 1 7th the Bulawayo Staff Officer, 
Newman, cabled to Cape Town: ‘Rebels continuing to increase in 



numbers and proximity round us to north and east, forming semi- 
circle about 3 miles on the Umgusa river, 6 miles from here, our 
scouts and patrols being always in touch and fighting with their 
advance guards.’ ‘The gravity of the situation is hardly realized 
even by the local population,’ reported Newman. There was a real 
danger that Bulawayo might be rushed and the whites gathered 
there wiped out. 1 

‘Poor old Albert Grey will have his work cut out for him,’ wrote 
the irrepressible Jarvis from the Gwelo laager. ‘It is bad luck for 
him.’ ‘My darling wife,’ wrote Grey, ‘this native trouble and the 
break-out of the cattle plague is a serious disturber of our plans. 

. . . The position is not a pleasant one. Bulawayo is practically a 
beleaguered town with barely a month’s supplies, 500 miles away 
from its base, Mafeking.’ ‘All the plagues of Egypt have tumbled at 
once upon this unhappy country,’ the new Administrator told his 
son. ‘Drought, locusts, failure of crops, total annihilation of the 
cattle by rinderpest, no milk, no beef in a few days, but lots of 
lovely smells from dead cattle’, and an all too successful native 
rebellion. For while the Administrator and his white subjects were 
bewailing this succession of disasters, the rebels were jubilantJTt 
was natural for them to claim initial success,’ ran a later Rhodesian 
staff paper, ‘for they had murdered a number of the white people 
and raided their stores and homesteads without being punished, 
and driven the remainder into laagenj Waverers took heart and 
joined the apparently winning side. . . . The counter stroke, which 
was so essential to success, was not forthcoming.’ 2 

These remarkable events set the atmosphere of the months which 
followed. jBulawayo was not stormed but the whites of Matabele- 
land had suffered a terrible blow; a relatively high proportion of 
them had been killed, many others had lost their property, and all 
had experienced the full shock of surprise and feanjThe panic in 
Bulawayo on the night of March 25th, when the fmst news of the 
killings reached the town and the rumour spread that the impis 
were already in the outskirts, was a thing to be remembered with 
shame; ‘the women and children were called in from the outlying 

1 Grey to Lady Grey, 23 Mar. 1896, GR 1/1/1; Staff Papers on the lessons 
of the rising, PA 1/1/2 and PA 1/1/3; Newman to Secretary, Cape Town, 
17 Apr. 1896, LO 5/2/48. 

2 Grey to Lady Grey, 1 1 Apr. 1896; Grey to Viscount Howick, 8 May 1896; 
GR1/1/1; Jarvis to Lady Jarvis, 29 Mar. 1896, JA4/1/1; PA1/1/3. 



parts’, wrote Captain MacFarlane later; ‘the gallant inhabitants 
lost their heads and scrambled and fought for what rifles were left 
in the Government Store. It was a disgraceful scene and the less 
said about it the better’. Moreover, the whites were filled with a 
genuine horror and rage at the character as well as at the fact of 
the murders. We must look at one of these in detail in order to 
understand the nature of the first days of the rising and the 
reasons for the violence of white reaction. 1 

By far the most illuminating account of one of these early 
murders was given by the Ndebele elder, Nganganyoni Mhlope, in 
November 1938. Mhlope had been prosecuted for murder in 1897 
and had served a long prison sentence. In 1938, though with great 
reluctance, he was persuaded by a sympathetic white questioner to 
tell the story of the murder and of the first days of the rising in 
return for a pledge that his account ‘would never be shown to 
anyone who might be likely to do him any harm whatsoever as a 
result’. Mhlope was living in 1896 in a kraal in the Inyati area. 
The main grievance of the Ndebele in Inyati was the pressing of 
labour by the police. ‘When they recruited us they used to beat us. 

_^>They were our own sons and they beat us. That was the cause of 
the rebellion. Another cause was that they left no one at the kraal. 
They took everybody — that is all the males. And if you had a goat 
at your kraal they would kill it and make you cook it for them.’ 
O arly in March 1896 a message came from the Matopos telling the 
people of Inyati: ‘You had better fight because you are badly 
treated.’ Mhlope and his friends thereupon ‘divided off in groups 
to go off and kill the white people that we knewj. . . we had no 
grievance against these people. We killed them merely because 
they were white people.’ Mhlope and five others went to the store 
under the hill of Taba Zi Ka Mambo, which was kept by three 
whites whom he calls by their Ndebele nicknames, ‘Mandevu’, 
‘Wani’ and ‘Mandisi’. ‘We did not show them that we were coming 
to fight,’ Mhlope tells us. ‘We found Mandevu in his hut, Wani was 
in the store and Mandisi was in the lands reaping mealies. . . . We 
divided up ... I went into the store. When we got into the store we 
asked for limbo. We told Wani that we wanted to buy limbo. We 
were waiting to hear those people who had gone to Mandevu be- 
cause we had arranged that as soon as they started on that side we 
would start on this side. While we were still talking to Wani and he 
1 Macfarlane, Some Account of George Grey and his work in Africa, 1914. 


was looking at the limbo hanging up and pointing to different 
pieces and asking us which piece we wanted we heard a noise of 
something hitting boxes. We caught hold of Wani. I caught hold 
of Wani and we both fell down and while we were on the floor 
Kafuli struck him with an axe behind the head as we were strug- 
gling on the floor. The one blow killed him.’ 

Two of the men then went out to look for ‘Mandisi’ in the lands. 
‘When Matekenya and Ngonye reached Mandisi he did not know 
they were coming to kill him because he knew them. They told us 
that they hit him with a knobkerrie. When they got to him, he 
greeted them and told them that as they had come they had better 
help him with the reaping. They walked near him and then they 
hit him with a knobkerrie. Matekenya hit him. T hey hit him once 
and Ngonye then chopped his neck with an axe.’jAZulu servant 
was also killed ‘because he was as good as a EuropearTj ‘These 
white people were our friends’, concludes Mhlope, ‘and scTThey did 

t not expect that we were coming to kill them. They were our friends 
but since we were starting to fight they might have killed us too. 
It is also true that we had decided to get rid of all the white men in 
the country.’ 1 

jr““ Mhlope’s statement brings out perfectly both the rationality 
from their point of view of the Ndebele action and the treachery 
Land horror of it from the point of view of the whites. ‘These white 
people were our friends and so they did not expect that we were 
coming to kill them.’ It leaves out one element which was very 
important in the white reaction, however, namely the similar 
murder of white women, on the effects of which Mr Mason has 
written perceptively. When one has added this, the strength of 
white desire for revenge becomes understandable enough, com- 
pounded as it was of fear, desire to recover lost prestige, and 
a genuine detestation of the murders. ‘Were you here’, wrote 
Carnegie from Bulawayo to a fellow missionary on April 6th, 1896, 
‘I could talk about things but letters and writing seem utterly 
unable to convey to you the strong anti-native feeling now existing 
in this town. . . . We are doing our best to uphold the value of 
human life and the honour of the Society we represent. . . . To be 
a missionary under these present circumstances appears to be a 
thankless task and to say a word on their behalf in the presence of 

1 Statement by Ngangonyi Mhlope, recorded by R. F. Windram, 20 Nov. 
1938; WI 8/1/3. 


some white men you are looked upon as being in league with the 
enemy.’ 1 

Carnegie was certainly not exaggerating. Jarvis expressed the 
sentiments of the aristocratic element when he wrote from Gwelo 
on March 29th: ‘I hope the natives will be pretty well extermin- 
ated. . . . Poor devils, one can’t help being a bit sorry for them for 
they have of course been imposed upon by these wretched ‘witch 

1 ‘ Qn ’ “ 

doctors’Jand the beastly missionaries have a lot to do with it, 
teaching the nigger that he is as good as the white man. It won’t 
do. The nigger has got to be treated as a nigger all the world over. 

/They only become the most brutal scoundrels if you try to turn 
them into Christians.’ On April 20th Jarvis wrote: ‘There are 
about 5500 niggers in this district (Gwelo) and our plan of cam- 
paign will probably be to proceed against this lot and wipe them 
out, .then move on towards Bulawayo wiping out every nigger and 
every kraal we can find. . . . after these cold-blooded murders you 
may be-isrffe there will be no quarter and everything black will 
have to die, for our men’s blood is fairly up.’ 2 

The general settler attitude was probably as well expressed in a 
piece of doggerel carried in the Salisbury paper, The Nugget , as in 
anything else. Entitled, The Rhodesian , it ran: 

Tho’ he’s not been trained to fightin’, ’tis a game he takes 
delight in, 

And he’s proved himself a rough and ruly chap, 

For he’ll trail the rebel nigger till he grasp his woolly wig, 
And he’ll scale the top-most kopje for a scrap. 

Tho’ he revels in the singing of the bullet as it’s pinging 
Past his ear, which makes him grin and duck his head, 

’Tis primest when his lead ’un scores his gun another dead ’un, 
And the nigger sinks to sleep as if in bed. 

While he pots his man he’ll hum ‘there goes another for my 

But a thousand blacks won’t bring the white lives back; 

So he thinks ‘Revenge is sweet’ as he just grips his saddle seat, 
And his horse bounds forward on the rebels’ track. 

Oh, he glories in the pig-skin as he holes another nig-skin, 
He fears not deadly ambush or stray picket, 

1 Carnegie to Thomson, 6 Apr. 1896, L.M.S. Matabele Mission, Vol 5. 

2 Jarvis to Lady Jarvis, 29 Mar. and 20 Apr. 1896, JA 4/1/1. 


For he’s in the killing mood and he’s got the taste of blood, 

And he’ll gallop through the densest bush and thicket. 

Let the folk in Exeter Hall and such-like other Grundies bawl, 

And rave and shout and cry that he’s inhuman, 

They may yell till they are hoarse for they’ve ne’er seen the 
ghastly corse, 

Or grinning skull of some fair murdered woman. 

’Tis not of blood he wants the spilling, he fights just for the 

’Venging those poor souls unburied in the veld; 

The black fiends never cared so why should one of them be 

First raise up the dead; then ask our hearts to melt. 1 

The bishop of Mashonaland might urge that ‘we must be 
patient and strong and just, remembering on the one hand that 
we have the responsibility of 19 centuries of Christianity, while 
the native has inherited the tendencies of at least 50 centuries of 
heathenism and its accompanying triple tyranny of cannibalism, 
polygamy and slavery’, but there was little to choose between 
the savagery with which both sides conducted the fighting in the 
months after the murders of March 1896. 2 

But as well as setting the scene for a terrible struggle between 
the two races in Matabeleland, the events of March 1896 posed 
two questions which much exercised thinking whites. Firstly, Jjwhy 
had the rising occurred?]We need say nothing more about this, for 
it can hardly seem much of a mystery after the first three chapters 
of this book. Secondly, how had the rising been organized and 
coordinated? This second question we shall now examine. 

When the first news of the murders reached England the 
Standard reported that ‘African and military authorities at the 
House of Commons’ found it ‘difficult to believe that the Mata- 
beles wretchedly armed, without leaders and still crippled by the 
losses they sustained when their country was first occupied will be 
able to hold their own against the well equipped force which can be 
called out to suppress them’. But, as we have seen, the rebel forces 

1 The Nugget, 22 June 1897. This issue also contains an article entitled, 
‘Stray Leaves from a Trooper’s Notebook’, which is worth reading in this 

2 The Times, 3 Apr. 1896. 


more than held their own during the first month and by the middle 
of April were investing Bulawayo. How was this achieved? 

To understand the rebel achievement we must look first at the 
fate of the Ndebele regimental system between 1893 and 1896. 
Despite the resolution of the Company to do so that system had 
not in fact been broken up. In 1893 by no means all the existing 
regiments had been engaged in the battles fought during Jameson’s 
march on Bulawayo or the clashes with Goold-Adams’ southern 
column. And in the case of the crack Ndebele regiments even those 
which had been engaged in the fighting were not thereby des- 
troyed as military units. Goold-Adams reported to the High Com- 
missioner in February 1894 that ‘the mixed regiments after once 
dispersing never really came together again as a body’ but that the 
exclusively Zansi and Enhla regiments retained their organization. 
‘After the defeat at the Bembesi and the dispersal of the southern 
impi\ he wrote, ‘the impis scattered in all directions to collect their 
wives and belongings. The old training of the Royal regiments still 
kept them together and although they suffered most severely the 
regiments still retained their separate bodies; strengthened by the 
Inyati regiments from the southern column they followed the king 
in some system.’ 

After the King’s death the members of these regiments began to 
drift back to the Ndebele homeland, now occupied by whites, no 
longer in military formation, of course, but still with a full recogni- 
tion of regimental responsibilities. Once at home they ‘split up and 
scattered among the various kraals’. The question was whether 
they would come together again if summoned to do so by their old 
regimental commanders. ‘These men have had such terrible hard- 
ships,’ wrote Goold-Adams; ‘first heavy losses in battle, then priva- 
tions from want of food and shelter, small pox and now fever . . . 
that their ranks are greatly thinned and they have had such a 
lesson that it should be some time before they forget it, yet these 
are the people most likely to interfere and cause trouble by inter- 
fering, with the Police carrying out their duties.’ 1 

Moreover, some of the impis engaged in the war did not join in 
the hard trek to the north after the King. Meikle, in the cattle- 
raiding expedition from Fort Victoria already described, found 
sheltering on a remote hilltop a ‘head induna, who it turned out 
was in command of the young impi at the first Shangani battle’ 
1 Goold-Adams to High Commissioner, 22 Feb. 1894, LO 5/2/34. 


and 900 of his men, ‘fine big strapping fellows’. ‘We saw no arms,’ 
he writes; ‘these had been hidden — they did not even carry a stick.’ 
Clearly this impi was not in any very terrible shape and it would 
not be difficult for it to recover its arms and reconstitute itself as an 
organized force. 1 

There was some reason from his own point of view in the feelings 
expressed by one of the conquerors in a letter from Bulawayo in 
January 1894 that the war had been won too easily. ‘The young 
warriors still stick to the King’, he wrote, ‘and we shall have to kill 
a few more of this class to make them respect us. Privately I should 
like to say cut about 2000 more as we have not killed enough. I 
hope we shall get a chance to wipe out Wilson’s score.’ But that 
chance did not come and the war ended with a number of regi- 
ments in being; some not having been involved in the fighting at 
all and the rest still responsive to the calls of regimental loyalty 
and discipline. 2 

We have already seen how the indunas and the royal family 
moved into a position of readiness to rebel; what of the young 
soldiers upon whom they would have to call? All authorities agree 
that it was upon them that the impact of colonial rule fell most 
heavily. ‘These are the people who will feel the change most’, 
Goold- Adams had written in 1894. ‘They have been accustomed 
to a life of idleness and the remainder of the Nation cringing to 
them. They are unaccustomed to work and they will feel the loss 
of their prestige and power; at present they appear to accept our 
rule but should any disaffection take place hereafter it will originate 
amongst these people.’ The young warriors bitterly resented the 
labour policy we have seen described by the Chief Native Com- 
missioner whereby they were forced to work by police raids. They 
also resented the final settlement of the cattle question whereby 
nearly all the cattle handed back to the Ndebele were allocated 
to the older men; as Carnegie wrote, the young fighting men ‘who 
according to native law would have possessed cattle were left with- 
out their full share’. Under these circumstances the young men 
were only too ready to respond when called out by the regimental 
indunas in 1896 and no doubt many of them found in the rising, 
despite all its horrors, an opportunity for reliving a way of life which 
was still delightful to them. Baden-Powell has a striking passage 

1 Meikle’s Reminiscences, ME 1/1/1. 

2 Gifford to Cawston, 14 Jan. 1894, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 76, Vol. 4. 


in his book on the rebellions in which he describes how he watched 
from cover a young Ndebele warrior sunning himself in the Mato- 
pos, the very embodiment of martial virtue and youthful vigour. 
Baden-Powell at that moment understood why it was that such 
men were not prepared to accept a regime which offered them 
work in the mines as an alternative to the old ways. 1 

And so most of the military effectiveness of the rebellion came 
from a revival of the old regimental system. Intelligence reports 
on the rebel forces are like a roll call of the old regime. In June 
1896, for example, the Chief Native Commissioner made a detailed 
report on the leadership of the Ndebele forces, which he estimated 
at some 14,000 strong. Their leaders were the sons, brothers and 
nephews of Lobengula; senior indunas like Sikombo,Dhliso,Babyaan ; 
regimental commanders and kraal heads. In Gwanda district, for 
instance, ‘Umsolo, who was Lieutenant of the Royal Kraal in 
Lobengula’s time was the first to openly rebel’; in Filabusi district 
‘Fezela and Mahlehleni together with the police committed the 
murders at Filabusi store and police camp; Fezela is a brother of 
the late king’, Mahlehleni the commander of the Godhlwayo 
regiment; and so the report continues. ‘This is the Matabele war 
which did not take place three years ago,’ wrote Carnegie. It had 
been unexpected to him to hear while on leave in England of the 
‘comparatively easy downfall of Lobengula in the late war of 1893’. 
This rising was the formidable challenge of the great majority of 
the Ndebele nation which he had expected then. 2 

So militarily speaking the rising in Matabeleland was largely a 
matter of a revived regimental system; and also an improved one 
in terms of tactics. The deserters from the Matabeleland Native 
Police carried with them improved notions of marksmanship and 
the lessons of the battles of 1893 had been learnt by their survivors. 
‘The Matabele soldier of today is a very different man to the 
Matabele soldier of 1893’, cabled a number of experienced settlers 
from Bulawayo in April 1896. ‘Large numbers of them are armed 
and they seem to have plenty of ammunition. There is no doubt 
that there has been a great deal of rifle practice by them for the 
last two years. They will not make rushes en masse but take shelter 

1 Goold-Adams, op. cit. ; Carnegie, Evidence submitted to Sir Richard 
Martin, June 1896, C, 8547; Baden-Powell, The Matabele Campaign, 1897. 

2 Report byC.N.C., 19 June 1896, PO 1/1/2; Carnegie to Thomson, 6 Apr. 
1896, L.M.S. Matabele Mission, Vol. 5. 


in a good situation. ... So far their tactics have placed our men 
at an utter disadvantage.’ 1 

But merely to say that the main impis engaged in the Ndebele 
rising of 1896 were made up of old regiments revived is by no 
means to give a complete or sufficient explanation of the organiza- 
tion and coordination of the rebellion. There is the further prob- 
lem, to begin with, of how any degree of coherence was achieved 
between the movements of the various regiments and regimental 
commanders. Before the 1893 war, as we have seen, the regiments 
all recognized the supreme command of the King; the institution 
of monarchy alone gave a directive centre to the military machine. 
The regimental commanders themselves had been ‘to a large ex- 
tent hereditary servants of the state. They had little in the way of 
ritual functions and depended on the King for their authority.’ 
No single one of them, or even group of them, could substitute 
in any real way for the central authority of the monarch. In 1896, 
of course, Lobengula was dead and the efforts of the Ndebele 
indunas to restore the monarchy had failed. Lobengula’s younger 
sons, born while he was King and thus eligible for the Kingship, 
had been sent to South Africa for their education. When Mzilikazi 
had died the inter-regnum had been bridged by a widely recog- 
nized Regent, Nombate. But in the last years of Lobengula’s reign 
he had fallen out with and killed Nombate’s son so that there was 
in 1896 no accepted Regent to give central direction. The senior 
indunas were much divided among themselves. There was, however, 
one man who symbolized the unity of the Ndebele nation and who, 
therefore, played an extremely significant part in the organization 
of the risings. 2 

The Ndebele nation recognized a senior religious officer, a ‘high 
priest of the tribe’, who was quite distinct from the witch-finders 
and diviners and non-Ndebele rain-makers and from the priest- 
hood of Mwari. This officer and his family were responsible for 
the conduct of the Great Dance and ceremony of First Fruits, that 
annual demonstration of Ndebele unity. On other great national 
occasions the ‘high priest’ played a central role. The missionary, 
T. M. Thomas, for instance, who was present in Matabeleland 
when Mzilikazi died and was succeeded by Lobengula, described 
the part played by the ‘high priest’, Umtamjana, in the period of 

1 Rhodes to High Commissioner, enclosing cable from Selous, Colenbrander 
and others, 12 Apr. 1896, LO 5/2/48. 2 Hughes, op. cit. 


the inter-regnum. It was he who performed the rites of burial for 
Mzilikazi, sacrificing cattle and commending the dead king to his 
ancestors ‘in the highest terms’. It was he, also, who prepared the 
young Lobengula ‘by instructions, ceremonies and charms’ for his 
installation as King; and it was he who on March 17th, 1870, 
‘in the presence of about six thousand people . . . gave the King a 
charge, in which he dwelt upon the laws and customs of the tribe, 
and the responsibilities and difficulties of the present government 
of the country’. 1 

Thomas’ evidence gives us some idea of the role played by the 
‘high priest’ during the crisis of the Ndebele system which followed 
Mzilikazi’s death. In the much more profound crisis which fol- 
lowed the death of Lobengula the ‘high priest’ once again played 
a part of great importance. By the 1890s Umtamjana had been 
succeeded by Umlugulu, whom various witnesses described in 
1896 as ‘the head of the family who had charge of the rites’; ‘the 
representative of the priestly family of the Matabili tribe, who 
during the great war dance . . . had control of the whole people 
and rule of the country’; ‘the head dance doctor’; and the ‘King 
Maker’. Early in 1894, just before the King’s death, Lobengula 
sent Umlugulu a commission ‘to the effect that if ever he had the 
power he was to re-institute the Great Dance and with it the rites 
of the Matabele Kingdom’. This commission and the absence of 
any recognized Regent made Umlugulu the central figure in the 
movement for the establishment of a successor to Lobengula in 
1894 and 1895. 2 

During these years Umlugulu was a neighbour of F. C. Selous, 
then acting as manager of one of Sir John Willoughby’s properties 
at Essexvale. Selous tells us that Umlugulu was ‘a very gentle 
mannered savage and always courteous and polite’ and the two 
men struck up something of a friendship. Umlugulu would com- 
plain of various aspects of the Company regime, particularly of 
the misbehaviour of the Matabeleland Native Police, and try to 
persuade Selous to protect his herds from seizure by the Company 
by running them with his own. But, so Selous tells us, no more was 
heard either of complaints or of devices to protect cattle after the 

1 T. M. Thomas, Eleven Tears in Central Africa, London, 1872. 

2 Carnegie, Memorandum on the Rebellion, 29 Mar. 1896, HO 1/3/4; 
Carnegie, Evidence submitted to Sir Richard Martin, June 1896, C. 
Report of Acting Administrator 3 Apr. 1896, A 10/12/2. 


news of the Jameson Raid had been received and Umlugulu had 
learnt that ‘the whole of the police force of Matabeleland, together 
with the artillery, munitions of war, etc. . . . had been captured 
by the Boers’. Umlugulu still visited Selous regularly, however, 
‘and always questioned me very closely as to what had actually 
happened in the Transvaal’. 1 

By the beginning of 1896 Umlugulu was at the centre of a 
group of senior indunas — Sikombo, Babyaan, Somabulana, etc. — 
who were planning an armed rising and the restoration of the King- 
ship. The meetings on February 1896, which have been described 
above, were held near Umlugulu’s kraal, and the accounts we have 
of the organization of the rising attribute the major initiative to 
Umlugulu throughout. It was he, we are told, who ‘induced chiefs 
in other districts to join in the movement’; he who was the ‘chief 
instigator’ or the ‘main-spring’ of the rising. However this may be, 
it was certainly he who was to play the main role in the ceremony 
which was planned to initiate the rising. It was the intention of 
the group of indunas around Umlugulu, to hold a Great Dance 
at full moon on the night of March 26th ‘on the borders of 
the Filabusi mining district’. At this Dance Umlugulu was to ‘go 
through the ceremonies’, proclaim a member of the royal house, 
Umfezela, as the new King, ‘and inaugurate, in spite of the 
present government, a new regime’. Thus the rising would from 
the start possess a directive centre and the movements of the 
various regiments would be controlled once again by the Ndebele 
King. 2 

This Dance was never held. Carnegie explained this in terms of 
police and military activity in the chosen area, and of the prema- 
ture murders of Ndebele police which set the whole movement of 
insurrection in motion before the new King could be proclaimed. 
But in view of the fact that the rebels found it impossible, once the 
revolt had begun, to agree upon a candidate for the Kingship and 
thus achieve much-needed unity, we may guess that the failure 
to hold the Dance had something to do with the opposition to 
Umfezela’s candidature onthepart of the ‘young bloods’. Umfezela 
had the support of Umlugulu and the older indunas ; the younger 

1 F. C. Selous, Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia, 1896. 

2 Report by the C.N.C., 19 June 1896, PO 1/2/2; Acting Administrator to 
Secretary, Cape Town, 13 Feb. 1896, LO 5/2/47; Carnegie Memorandum, 
HO 1/3/4. 


men, led by the militant induna Mpotshwana, wanted Lobengula’s 
eldest son, Nyamanda; and the difference involved different ideas 
about the rising and how it should be conducted. These differences 
were not resolved and throughout the rising the rebel Ndebele 
aristocracy was divided into two rough factions. 1 

In fact, then, the various regiments stirred into action in 1896 
never did act according to a plan conceived by a single Ndebele 
military authority, and many white observers commented with 
relief upon the lack of coherent central direction. ‘They would 
have done better’, wrote Selous, ‘had they worked under one 
intelligent general.’ ‘It is only, even now,’ wrote Baden-Powell in 
July 1896, ‘internal jealousies among the rebel chiefs that save the 
whites from being blotted out. The attempt to make Nyamanda 
King, if ever seriously intended, fell through abortively; each of 
the great chiefs desires that honour for himself; and thus the differ- 
ent impis do not amalgamate to crush us.’ 2 

More than this; some of the most senior Ndebele indunas held 
aloof from the plans for a rising altogether, and refused to come 
into it once it had begun. Gambo, Mjaan, Faku — all remained 
‘loyal’, and carried many of their followers with them. Neverthe- 
less we should not underestimate the contribution made by Umlu- 
gulu to the effectiveness of the rising. Before the March outbreak 
whites had been confident that the Ndebele were so divided 
amongst themselves that they would never be able to coordinate 
resistance; and even after the outbreak many believed that ‘the 
Matabele impis are far from unanimous in their determination to 
fight’ and that it would be possible ‘to cause such a split amongst 
them that dog will eat dog and take a lot of trouble off our hands’. 
Umlugulu’s influence was one major reason why these expectations 
were confounded; he was certainly at the centre of the planning 
which preceded the rising and after its outbreak he was a focus 
of loyalty for one of the two broad factions into which the rebels 
were divided. ‘Umlugulu lives at Essexvale’, noted the Staff Diary 
for 5 June 1896, ‘and is the most powerful man in the country; 
Nyamanda, Lobengula’s son, heads the eastern faction, mostly 
young men.’ Thus the rising was not merely a chaos of independ- 
ent action by totally distinct regiments; those engaged in it did 
group themselves around the contrasting principals of Ndebele 

1 Carnegie, Evidence submitted to Sir Richard Martin, C. 8547 . 

2 Selous, op. cit; Baden-Powell, op. cit. 


unity represented by Umlugulu, the ‘high priest’, and Nyamanda, 
the eldest son of Lobengula. 1 

But a discussion of the attempt to coordinate the action of the 
Ndebele regiments and the limited extent to which it was success- 
ful by no means brings to an end the inquiry into the organization 
of the rising in Matabeleland. So far, after all, we have been talking 
only about the Ndebele aristocracy and although these played a 
leading role they were by no means alone involved. To mobilize 
and bring into action the Ndebele nation meant calling the Holi 
caste into action as well; and to make the rising really effective 
and general meant persuading the ex-tributary Shona peoples to 
join it. 

And here lies precisely one of the main differences between the 
1893 war and the Matabeleland rising of 1896. In 1893 there is 
good evidence to suggest that the Holi regiments did not fight very 
vigorously; and it is clear that the tributary Shona made no sort 
of attempt to come to the aid of their Ndebele over-lords. Shona 
from the eastern areas of Matabeleland in fact joined the invading 
white column as ‘friendlies’, while the Kalanga peoples of the 
south-west and of the Matopos area remained studiously neutral. 
‘The Makalakas’, wrote Goold-Adams in February 1894, ‘never 
answered the call to turn out and fight the whites but remained in 
their fastnesses . . . and sent representatives to the whites to ask for 
peace. At the present the whole of the Makalakas are at their own 
homes, they never having left them, and I think welcome the 
turn of events.’ 2 

Yet in 1896 it was at once strikingly apparent that over and 
above the Ndebele Zansi and Enhla regiments large numbers 
of the Holi were also engaged in the revolt and that the Shona 
peoples of the east, north-east and north of Matabeleland were 
thoroughly committed to it. So much was this so that early press 
comment on the rising tended to regard it as largely the work of 
the old subject peoples. Thus The Times reported on March 28 
that ‘the natives who are making the disturbances are not the 
true Matabeles but the AmaHoli and the Mashonas’; and on the 
same day the Pall Mall Gazette reported that the rebels were ‘not 
Matabele but their enfranchized subjects’. These reports were 

1 Staff Diary, June 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, pp. 243-5; Bulawayo 
Sketch, 18 Apr. 1896. 

2 Goold-Adams to High Commissioner, 22 Feb. 1894, LO 5/2/34. 


soon corrected as the commitment of ‘the true Matabele’ became 
obvious but they may serve to remind us of the important part 
played in the rebellion by these other groups. 

Why was there this difference between 1893 and 1896? It was 
certainly not because of the continuance or the revival of the 
authority of the regimental indunas or of Umlugulu, Umfezela 
or Nyamanda. As Umlugulu himself complained, ‘the MaHoli do 
not recognize us any longer; they say, “We belong to the white 
men as well as you”.’ As for the Kalanga, Karanga and other 
Shona peoples they were no more responsive in 1896 than they 
had been in 1893 to the appeals of the Ndebele aristocracy. Selous 
tells us, for instance, that Umfezela sent his own son to the Kalanga 
of the Fig Tree area, calling upon them in the name of racial 
solidarity to make common cause against the whites who were 
‘killing all the black men they can catch’. The Kalanga chief 
merely replied that the ‘people don’t wish to fight; they wish to 
sit still’. And sit still they did. 1 

But if the Shona peoples of Matabeleland had not changed their 
attitude to the Ndebele since 1893 they had certainly changed 
their attitude to the whites. They may have welcomed ‘the turn of 
events’ in 1893 but they were almost as heavily affected by Com- 
pany rule as the Ndebele themselves. They did not lose their land 
in the same wholesale way and they did not suffer the same col- 
lapse of aristocratic self-esteem; but they, too, were disarmed; they, 
too, were forced to work; their cattle were also siezed. By 1896 they 
had every reason to hope for the overthrow of the new regime; 
indeed some of them were already resisting it in the same sort of 
way that it had been resisted in Mashonaland through the piece- 
meal opposition of individual chiefs before the actual outbreak of 
the rising. Thus the first shots fired by Africans in Matabeleland 
after the end of the 1893 war were fired not by the Ndebele but by 
the Shona peoples of eastern Belingwe. Infuriated by siezures of 
cattle and the pressing of labour a band of Belingwe Shona am- 
bushed a police patrol early in March 1896. ‘This is the second 
patrol of native police which has been fired on by Mashonas on the 
Belingwe Victoria boundary’, wrote the Acting Chief Native Com- 
missioner. He sought permission ‘to hunt out these troublesome 
natives’, to ‘shoot any natives bearing arms in that district on 
sight’, and to nip any trouble in the bud. Before any action could 
1 The Bulawayo Chronicle, 26 June 1897; Selous, op. cit. 


be taken these disorders were dwarfed by the outbreak of the 
rising. But clearly there is no need to postulate any Ndebele coer- 
cion or persuasion to explain the involvement of the Belingwe 
Shona in the rising; they were only too ready to throw off Com- 
pany rule. And the same was true of the Shona peoples of the north 
and north-east. 1 

However, there still is need of an explanation of how any degree 
of coordination was established between these Shona groups and 
the Ndebele rebels, for such coordination existed. The answer 
seems to lie largely in the role of the Mwari-Mlimo cult officers as 
allies of the Ndebele aristocracy on the one hand and as authorities 
amongst the ex-tributary Shona on the other. We have seen some- 
thing of the history of the Mwari cult in Chapter One. The time 
has now come for a more detailed examination of its fortunes 
after the collapse of the Rozwi confederation; its relations with 
the Ndebele state and its influence in 1896. 

It has been claimed by some authorities that even before the 
death of the last Mambo there had been a breach between the 
Rozwi kings and the Mwari priesthood, and that the latter had 
moved from the cult centre at Zimbabwe to the shrines in the 
Matopos hills which from then on became the nuclear area of the 
cult. However this may be, the cult certainly survived the over- 
throw of the Rozwi state with which it had been so closely associ- 
ated. The overthrow itself was explained, indeed, in terms of the 
displeasure of Mwari. At first, moreover, it looked as if the new 
Ndebele rulers might come to the same sort of working arrange- 
ment with the cult which the Rozwi themselves had so successfully 
established. ‘On arriving in their land, about forty years ago’, 
T. M. Thomas wrote in 1872, ‘Umzilikazi found several Ama- 
Kalanga doctors and wizards there, and for a time, on account of 
their influence over the chiefs of their own tribes, and knowledge 
of the country, they were of much use to him as news-mongers 
and leaders of his troops on their raids into different parts of the 
interior.’ 2 

1 Acting C.N.C. to Acting Administrator, 10 Mar. 1896, A 1/12/27; for 
the effect of Company administration on the south-western Kalanga, see Cullen 
Reed to Sir Richard Martin, 2 July 1896, Blue Book C. 8547. 

2 Thomas, op. cit. For a full version of oral tradition concerning the dis- 
pleasure of Mwari with the Mambos, see N. G., ‘Magango Hutari’, NAD A, 
1933 - 


But the Ndebele state was built on different principles from 
the Rozwi confederacy. Within the highly concentrated and 
centralized Ndebele state proper there was little need for the Mwari 
priesthood as a coordinating agency. Thus Thomas tells us that 
once the priests Tailed to discover any more Ama-Kalanga or 
AmaSwina cattle they were dispatched’. The word dispatched, 
however, gives altogether too dramatic an idea of the fate of the 
Mwari priesthood. They were certainly not exterminated; it was 
merely that the cult was no longer used for continuous central 
political purposes and that it was closely controlled and watched. 
Its chief officials, no longer based at the capital of the monarch, 
were allowed to preside over the various shrines in the Matopos. 
After all, the Ndebele felt the need which Father Devlin tells us 
was common to all conquerors of Rhodesia before the white man 
to be at ‘peace with the land’, and Mwari was pre-eminently the 
god of fertility and harvest. It seems that at all times under the 
Ndebele kingship the dispatch of gifts to the chief Mwari shrines 
was permitted and that it was a recognized responsibility of the 
Ndebele. king to send such gifts on behalf of the nation. If Hughes 
is right, the Mwari priesthood were even formally represented 
each year in a special compound at the Great Dance and the Feast 
of the First Fruits . 1 

But at the same time there was a feeling, as Thomas puts it, 
that the ‘fame and influence’ of the cult ‘were inconsistent with 
those of the Ndebele king’. Thus our evidence suggests that it was 
only at times when the power of the Ndebele monarchy was for 
some reason or another at an ebb that the cult was able to mani- 
fest its old vigour and its emissaries able to travel freely through 
the whole area of its influence. Thomas tells us, for instance, that 
Mwari messengers did not begin to go round the military kraals 
‘until Mzilikazi had become old and feeble’; that they then rapidly 
built up a great influence, becoming in each town they entered 
‘the real lord of the place’; that the cult centre was even consulted 
after the death of Mzilikazi on the choice of his successor; but that 
almost immediately after the succession of the new king ‘this 
underground mysterious being was denounced and his represent- 
atives roughly handled .’ 2 

In the same way after Lobengula’s death there was a similar 

1 Hughes, The Re-construction of the Ndebele slate under European control. 

2 Thomas, op. cit. 


expansion of the cult’s activities. The priesthood emphatically 
dissociated itself from the dying monarchy in 1893 and did nothing 
to persuade the tributary Shona peoples to support the Ndebele 
against the whites. ‘In 1893, when the Salisbury- Victoria columns 
were steadily coming into the country’, ran a press report in July 
1896, ‘the Matoppo prophet saw that the white man would come 
and sit in Bulawayo.’ ‘Look!’ the voice of Mwari was later believed 
among the Ndebele to have told Lobengula, ‘You who are so busy 
killing people. You are a little man. Climb on top of a high hill and 
see these people who are coming up. See their dust rising in the 
South. My white sons whose ears shine in the sun are coming here.’ 
Mwari’s white sons, having come, paid little attention to his priest- 
hood, but while they did not come to terms with them as former 
conquerors had done, no more did they control them. Released 
from Lobengula’s restrictions the Mwari officials greatly extended 
their activities between 1893 and 1896. ‘The Wosana were rain 
bringers’, Nyanganyoni Mhlope tells us in his account of the out- 
break of the rising: ‘They used to come in a group and say that they 
were sent by the Mlimo to make rain. They would dance at the 
kraal and the people would give them presents. In the time of 
Lobengula they were not allowed to go round the kraals and dance. 
Lobengula used to send a few men to Njelele with black oxen and 
they would find Wosana there and the Wosana would dance to 
make rain. When the white people came into the country then the 
Wosana started to go round from kraal to kraal.’ And Mhlope tells 
also of the new prestige of the Mwari officers. In the Inyati area in 
this period, he says, the chief Mwari messenger was one Mkwati. 
‘He was just like an Nkosi (King). He was not an Nkosi but we 
took him as an Nkosi because he had been sent by the Mlimo.’ 1 

Clearly the Mwari officers, with their increased activity and 
prestige, and their continuing ‘influence over the chiefs of their 
own tribes and knowledge of the country’, could be of great 
assistance to the Ndebele leaders. The cult still offered consider- 
able possibilities of coordination. It is important to ask at this 
point what precisely those possibilities were. 

In July 1896 General Carrington, commander of the British 
forces operating against the Ndebele, gave his view of the Mwari 
cult. ‘The Mlimo is a Makalaka institution,’ he wrote, ‘which has 

1 Cape Times, 10 July 1896; Richards, ‘The Mlimo-Belief and Practice of the 
Kalanga’, NAD A, 1942; Mhlope, op. cit. 


been adopted with great fervour by the Matabele. . . . For special 
occasions the people appear to travel enormous distances in order 
to consult the Mlimo and his orders fly about from one end of the 
country to another with great rapidity.’ This account, with its 
emphasis upon a single ‘Mlimo’ or high priest of Mwari and its 
notion of orders from this single authority being carried and 
obeyed everywhere, fairly represents the general white view in 
1896. But it certainly overestimates both the centralization and 
the authoritarianism of the cult. Whatever may have been the 
case under the Rozwi Mambos in 1896 there was no single cult 
centre which was generally accepted as senior to all others, and 
certainly no single cult officer who could command the obedience 
of all adherents of the cult. There were, rather, some four cult 
centres of major importance, and a large number of subsidiary 
shrines scattered about the area of the cult’s activities. 1 

The location of the four important shrines in the nineteenth 
century is given in a valuable account of Ndebele and Shona 
religious belief written from Hope Fountain Mission by Joseph 
Cockin in 1872. ‘They have great faith in certain deified men. 
Amongst the Amaswena are numbers of men who claim to be 
Gods. To the East amongst the Amatoppo Mountains there is a 
town named Ematjetjeni [Matonjeni], to the South is another 
named Enjeleli [Njelele] and to the South West is a third, named 
Umkombo. These belong to a man named Ungwali, a god in 
whom the Matabili have great faith. They say he is not a man but 
a spirit, that you cannot see him nor feel him. He dwells in a cave 
or series of caves. . . . Not very far from Emhlangeni (Inyati 
Mission Station) there dwells another God named Ujugwa.’ 2 

These four shrines were still operative in 1896, though many 
observers counted the two Matopos shrines as one. Thus Baden- 
Powell wrote: ‘The Mlimo is an invisible god who has three 
priests about the country, one in the north east beyond Inyati, 
one in the south in the Matopo hills and one south west near 
Mangwe.’ In addition to these major cult centres there was 
another important shrine outside the borders of Rhodesia in the 
Transvaal, and there were local oracular caves in the various 
districts of Matabeleland and western Mashonaland. 3 

1 Carrington to Goodenough, 25 July 1896, BA 2/1 /i. 

2 Cockin to Mullins, May 1879, LO 6/1/4. I owe this reference to Mr 

Richard Brown. 3 Baden-Powell, op. cit. 


These shrines stood in no simple relationship to each other. 
Moreover, as Bullock writes, ‘Mwari is not a fetish god bound to 
some stick or stone. He may not only move from cave to cave, but 
if so disposed can pass like a shooting star over the breadth of the 
land, manifesting his presence, perhaps, on Mount Rungai, a 
hundred miles away from the caves.’ Even at cult centres there 
was no one cave sacred to the god; a Mwari messenger from Chibi 
district who made annual visits to the Matonjeni shrine testified 
in 1932 that ‘during his period of service’ he had ‘visited ten 
different caves there’. 1 

Yet despite all this there was still a high degree of centralization 
in the cult which was of major significance in 1896. For one thing 
each of the four chief cult centres appears to have possessed a par- 
ticular area of influence, though no doubt there was overlapping. 
The evidence suggests a situation in which the shrine at Njelele 
exercised an influence particularly in the Matopos themselves and 
in the country south and west of Bulawayo; the shrine at Matonjeni 
exercised an influence particularly between Essexvale and western 
areas of Mashonaland; the south-western shrine, situated outside 
the Matopos near Mangwe fort, exercised an influence over the 
Kalanga peoples of south-west Matabeleland, northern Bechuana- 
land and the Tati concession; and the north-eastern shrine of the 
god ‘Ujugwa’ — which is merely another name for a child of 
Mwari — exercised an influence particularly over the people to the 
north and north-east of Bulawayo, extending to the Gwelo and 
Selukwe areas and perhaps beyond. For another thing there is 
good evidence of close links between the major cult centres and 
between the families who supplied their officials. The full commit- 
ment of the Mwari cult to any course of action would require 
rather the consultation and agreement of a number of senior 
officials than the orders of one high priest, but such consultation 
and agreement was by no means impossible to achieve. And such 
a full commitment to the rebellion would give the rebel leaders if 
not one centre, then at any rate four major centres of intelligence, 
information and influence. 2 

1 C. Bullock, The Mashona and the Matabele, 1950; Franklin, ‘Manyusa’, 
NADA, 1932. 

2 For the meaning of Ujugwa or Ujukwa see N. C. Belingwe, Report for Oct. 
1899, LO 5/7/1; in 1910 the clerk to the N.G., Insiza, wrote that ‘Majukwa’ 
was ‘a name given to the first appearers in starting a rebellion’. A 3/18/2. 


There is ample evidence to suggest that in the early months of 
1896 the Ndebele leaders, and especially Umlugulu and Mpot- 
shwana, were in contact with these leading priestly families. More- 
over the circumstances of those months made a popular appeal to 
the Mwari cult for guidance almost inevitable. The cult was, after 
all, especially concerned with fertility, particularly on the ‘national’ 
scale. In early 1896 rinderpest, drought, locusts, all added up to a 
most formidable threat to fertility — and one which the whites 
seemed to be doing nothing about. The situation was well des- 
cribed by ‘Matabele’ Wilson in his unpublished reminiscences of 
the period of the rebellions. ‘It is strange but true’, he wrote, ‘that 
since the white men have come into the country that the years 
1 894-5-6-7 have been years of drought. Practically speaking we 
have only had about half the rainfall (as most of the older men can 
vouch for) ; some of the streams that are now without water, they 
never remember to have seen them stop running before. They say 
the white men cannot make rain. What do the white men know 
about collecting clouds in the sky? They can live quite well with- 
out rain, why should they go to the trouble to make it, all the 
food-stuffs they want to eat come up in waggons and trains, they 
have water as they can go into a shop (meaning a hotel) and buy 
a drink and they have not sufficient interest in the natives to care 
whether they want food or not. When the rinderpest broke out in 
the country and swept over the land and wiped out all their cattle 
and herds, it drove them mad to think such a thing should happen. 
They reasoned thus, if such a thing had happened in the days of 
Lobengula, he would have sent people to the borders of his 
country and sprinkled medicine, and drove in posts and it would 
have prevented the disease from crossing into their country, but 
the whites are fools, they did not know anything about medicine 
of that description, and the cattle that the whites had in their 
possession had not cost them anything, and the whites had not 
tried in any way to stop the disease, they had even shot the cattle 
that they had remaining to them. . . . They said that the sickness 
and the bullet will soon deprive us of every living thing that we 
possess.’ 1 

In short, alone among the conquerors of Rhodesia the whites 
had, in African eyes, neglected the necessity of making peace with 
the land; no accommodation had been made with Mwari; and 
1 Reminiscences of ‘Matabele’ Wilson, WI 6/2/1. 


Mwari in his wrath was punishing all. As the people turned to 
Mwari’s officers for advice in early 1896, and as they consulted 
with the Ndebele leaders and with each other, most of the senior 
Mwari priests came to the conclusion that the whites must be 
driven out. Only then could the rain fall, the cattle recover, the 
locusts pass on. Their mood was similar in essentials to that of the 
leaders of the Boxer rebellion which broke out in China four 
years later. ‘The Catholic and Protestant religions being insolent 
to the gods’, ran a Boxer proclamation, ‘and extinguishing 
sanctity . . . the rain clouds no longer visit us; but eight million 
spirit soldiers will descend from Heaven and sweep the Empire 
clean of all foreigners. Then will the gentle showers once more 
water our lands.’ So in early 1896 supplicants to Mwari were told 
in the God’s name: ‘These white men are your enemies. They 
killed your fathers, sent the locusts, this disease among the cattle, 
and bewitched the clouds so that we have no rain. Now you go 
and kill these white people and drive them out of our fathers’ land 
and I will take away the cattle disease and the locusts and send 
you rain.’ 1 

In this way most of the leading officers of the Mwari cult lent 
both their moral support and their organizational apparatus to 
the preparations for the rebellion. Three out of the four main 
shrines advocated a rising and it was in the areas where those 
shrines were influential that the rising broke out. One shrine re- 
fused to commit itself to the rebellion and the area of its influence 
remained ‘loyal’ throughout. The dissentient shrine was that in 
the south-west near Mangwe. The chief officers there advised the 
Kalanga peoples to stay out of the movement; the priests them- 
selves took a leading part in warning whites, including mission- 
aries, of their danger; under their influence the peoples of Plum- 
tree and the south-west continued to ‘sit still’; and the baffling fact 
that the road south to Bechuanaland from Bulawayo was left 
open by the rebels is partly to be explained by the strict neu- 
trality maintained by the south-western cult officers and their 

The other three cult centres, however, were fully committed to 
the rising and it is interesting to trace their role in it. Curiously 
enough there is least evidence about the Njelele shrine, which all 

1 Fleming, The Siege of Peking, London, 1959, p. 35; Carnegie, Memorandum, 
29 Mar. 1896, HO 1/3/4. 

Ilia The British South Africa Company arrives in Matabeleland, 
1893; a contemporary drawing of the repulse of an Ndebele attack 
on a white laager during the march on Bulawayo. 

1 1 16 The Headquarters staff during the defence of Bulawayo, 1896. 

Left to Right, Top Row: Capt. R. Macfarlane, late 5th Lancers, Intelligence 
Officer; Capt. H. Brown, late King’s Royal Rifles, Staff Officer; Capt. 
Nicholson, 7th Hussars, Military Secretary; Capt. G. Grey, Grey’s Scouts; 
Gen. D. Willoughby, Chief of Staff; Capt. Newman, Staff Officer; Capt. 
Carden, Adjutant, Bulawayo Field Force. Bottom Row: Col. W. Napier, 
Commanding Troops in Matabeleland; Air A. H. Duncan, Acting Admin- 
istrator; Col. J. Spreckley, Commanding Officer, Bulawayo Field Force. 

IV A contemporary impression, based on the reports of Burnham 
and Armstrong of their alleged pursuit by an Ndebele impi after the 
‘shooting of the Mlimo’, June 1896. 



authorities agreed to be the senior and most influential. It had 
been to Njelele that Lobengula sent cattle and other presents to 
the God, and as Mr Hughes tells us the shrine still enjoyed ex- 
tensive prestige into the 1950s. ‘The Umlimo shrine at Injelele 
was regularly visited by agents of the cult . . . resident in distant 
parts of the country, both in the Ndebele area and from beyond 
the Ndebele borders,’ he writes. ‘At the present time some of these 
visitors come from extreme distances, even from Portuguese terri- 
tory beyond the eastern borders of Southern Rhodesia. Mojajai, 
the “rain queen” of the Lovedhu ... is known to have sent gifts 
of black cattle to Injelele.’ We may reasonably assume, therefore, 
that Njelele was influential in the same way in 1896 also and that 
the general assertions of its participation in the rising imply the 
exercise of its influence over a wide area. But while we can con- 
struct a list of the chief cult officers at Matonjeni from 1896 to the 
1 930s there is no record of the names of any of the Njelele priests. 
‘I have been told the name of the priest at Njelele’, wrote Native 
Commissioner Jackson in 1896, ‘but have forgotten it.’ 1 2 

The role of the Matonjeni shrine emerges much more clearly. 
The chief officer there in 1896 was a man variously described as 
Mwabani, Mwabane or Mtabane; he may possibly have been 
identical with the Umtuwani whom Rhodes described as the 
‘Mlimo’s mouthpiece’ in the Matopos in September 1896. At any 
rate his shrine at Matonjeni was situated very close to Umlugulu’s 
kraal on the Umzingwani river and there seems little doubt that 
he was the cult representative with whom Umlugulu worked most 
closely. Matonjeni’s influence, to judge by later evidence, was 
particularly strong in the Belingwe, Chibi, Gutu and Ndanga 
areas of eastern Matabeleland and western Mashonaland. There 
are many references in Native Department files to the post- 
rebellion activities of Mwari messengers from Matonjeni in those 
areas, including Mwabani’s alleged involvement in a plot to 
bring Belingwe out in rebellion in 1900, and the supposed circula- 
tion of seditious messages ‘believed to have emanated Ematojeni’ 
which necessitated a police patrol through the Victoria circle in 

1 Jackson, Memorandum on the Mwari cult, 1896, JA 5/4/3; Hughes, 
op. cit. 

2 Rhodes to Grey, 21 Sept. 1896, LO 5/6/4; files N3/31/1; N 3/33/12; 
N 3/H/5; N 3/32/1. 


The allegations by an African spy in the Belingwe area of 
Mwabani’s supposed insurrectionary role in 1900 are particularly 
interesting, since it is a recurrent feature of the Native Depart- 
ment files that what actually did happen in 1896 continued for 
years to form the basis of rumours of new plots. According to the 
spy, Mwabani was the leading figure in a plot to restore the 
Ndebele monarchy and to take advantage of the Boer war to oust 
the whites; he was allied to Umlugulu, Sikombo and other 
Ndebele indunas; and had sent messengers who ‘had appeared at 
some place close to Belingwe and ordered the people that this 
year they were to kill the white people’. It seems very improbable 
that anything of this sort happened in 1900 but not at all im- 
probable that something like it had happened in 1896. At any 
rate the Belingwe district rose en masse at the end of March, and it 
is clear that direct Ndebele influence had very little to do with this. 
As the Chief Native Commissioner noted in June 1896 when list- 
ing the areas affected by the outbreak and their Ndebele com- 
manders, ‘no Matabele live in the Belingwe district which is 
peopled by tribes of the Mashona type’. There is little doubt, on 
the other hand, that Mwabani’s influence was effective in the 
area and was used to stimulate rebellion. 1 

The character of this influence in Belingwe and adjoining dis- 
tricts, and the close contact between the Matonjeni priesthood 
and local Mwari officers, comes out very clearly in a valuable 
description of the cult organization by the Native Commissioner, 
Chibi. His account refers to the 1920s but it is not unreasonable 
to suppose that it describes a situation substantially similar to that 
existing thirty years earlier. In the Belingwe, Chibi, and Victoria 
districts, so he tells us, there were families of Manyusa , or Mwari 
messengers. These messengers visited the Matonjeni shrine twice 
a year; on the first occasion carrying gifts from the chiefs and 
people in supplication for rain; on the second occasion on ‘a visit 
of thanksgiving’. ‘A Nyusa must not go to Mwari on his own 
accord— he must have the authority of his Chief’; in Belingwe 
and Chibi the practice was for the local paramount chief to call 
together all his headmen and inform them ‘the number of cattle 
each is expected to supply’ towards the gift for Mwari; the Nyusa 
then carried a communal gift on behalf of the chief and people. 

1 LO 5/7/1, 2, 3, 4, 5; LO 5/5/3, 4, 5, 8, 15; C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 656; 
C.N.C.’s report, 19 June 1896, PO 1/1/1. 


‘When a Chief dies Mwari must be informed of the fact, also of the 
appointment of his successor. A Nyusa will be sent with four yards 
of black limbo as a present. This is handed to one of the priests. 
The cause of death is very strictly inquired into. The Nyusa is then 
conducted to one of the caves, where Mwari lives. There he sits 
down. The priest than says: “Your children have come to tell you 
that Nyakuti (so and so) who was a Chief cannot be found.” (The 
real words are: “Their hill has been burst asunder.”) A voice re- 
plies from a large stone: “I thank you, my children. Go back, do 
not forget to tell me who will succeed in his place.” ’ 

On their normal bi-annual visits to Matonjeni in the 1920s the 
Manyusa of the various districts usually travelled together in a 
party. They would go to the kraal of Matiza, the younger son of 
Mwabani; Matiza would send his mother ‘to discover whether it 
is agreeable for Mwari to receive the deputation’. Then Matiza 
would take the Manyusa to the cave and present their gifts. 
‘Mwari thanks the giver and then predicts when rain will fall, 
what he shall say to his Chief on return, and the number of cattle 
to be slaughtered.’ ‘The deputation then retires to Matiza’s Kraal, 
where they are supplied with food and drink. . . . The affairs of 
the people of the several Manyusa are discussed. Matiza is con- 
versant with several languages and can carry on a conversation 
with any Native.’ 

The Manyusa then returned home. ‘On his return home, the 
Nyusa announces his return to his Chief, after which a day is 
decided on for a gathering of the people to hear Mwari’s predic- 
tion.’ On that day cattle were sacrificed; the Manyusa met together 
so that those who had not gone on the mission could be informed 
of Mwari’s message. ‘Afterwards the Chief is given the message 
and he declares it to his people.’ 1 

This, then, is what we may imagine as having happened in 
Belingwe in 1896; the Manyusa sent to seek an end of the drought, 
the locusts and the rinderpest; the meeting and exchange of in- 
formation at Mwabani’s kraal; the return and formal announce- 
ment of Mwari’s advice; an effective mechanism of stimulation 
and coordination. But we should note that the peoples of Chibi 
and Ndanga did not come into the rebellion despite the messages 
from Matonjeni. In the Chibi district the local senior spirit 
medium, Mazarire, ‘had a great deal to do with holding the Chibi 

1 Franklin, ‘Manyusa’, NAD A, 1932. 


tribe back from committing any overt act during the 1896 re- 
bellion’; in Ndanga the local Mwari officers themselves seem to 
have restrained the people from rebellion. At any rate in 1910 a 
remarkable ceremony took place at the Matonjeni shrine, where 
a Ndanga Mwari representative imposed a fine on the manifesta- 
tion of the god-head there ‘because he had incited the Matabele 
to rebel in 1896. . . . The fine was demanded and paid for (the) 
wrongful act in inciting the 1896 rebellion.’ It was in Belingwe, 
where as we have seen, the people were beginning to resist police 
patrols even before the outbreak of the rising, that disposition to 
rebel and the influence of the Matonjeni shrine came together in 
effective combination. 1 

We know most of all about the role of the leading officer at the 
north-eastern shrine which in 1896 was situated at Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo, the hill on which the last Rozwi Mambo had died. The 
name by which this officer was known was Mkwati; he was a Leya 
in origin, and had been captured by a Ndebele slaving party 
near the Zambesi. Before 1893 he had lived in the great regimental 
kraal at Zingeni or Jingen and had been sent with gifts to Njelele 
as a Nyusa; after 1893 he moved to Taba Zi Ka Mambo, where he 
established an oracular cave and rapidly built up an extensive and 
formidable reputation. Though the evidence suggests that before 
the downfall of Lobengula Mkwati was a relatively junior member 
of the Mwari hierarchy, that hierarchy had never been so insti- 
tutionalized as to prevent the rise of men of remarkable prophetic 
talent or supernatural gifts. Jackson, who tells us that he only 
heard of Mkwati after the rebellion had broken out and that ‘the 
cave in Ntaba Zi Ka Mambo I never heard of before the rebellion’, 
also tells us that ‘there is no regular head priest of the Mlimo. One 
man at a time comes to the front and is believed in. Then for some 
reason his influence wanes and some new man springs up and 
ousts him.’ There is no doubt that between 1893 and 1896 
Mkwati’s prestige grew very greatly indeed. 2 

He was helped by his association with two remarkable allies. 
One of these was the woman, Tenkela, known to the Shona- 
speaking peoples as the Mother or Wife of Mwari, and to the 
Ndebele as Usalugazana. ‘After the white people came’, 

1 N.C., Insiza, to Superintendent, Gwelo, 28 Sept. 1910, A 3/18/2. The 
officer of the Matonjeni shrine in 1910 was Mwabani’s son, Khuliza. 

2 Jackson, Memorandum, 1896, JA 5/4/3; Mhlope, op. cit. 



Mhlope tells us, ‘Mkwati came back from Njelele with a woman — 
a tall woman with a light complexion; her name was Tengela. 
And he told the people that she was the lnkosikazi of the Mlimo.’ 
‘The Mlimo has one wife’, an African prisoner testified in August 
1896, ‘and three children. Umkwati is the father of these children.’ 
Now, this figure, the Mother or Wife of Mwari, certainly plays 
an important if mysterious part in the cult. In 1913, for instance, 
when messages from Matonjeni were being carried to the Chibi 
district one of them was an injunction to observe a certain rest day 
‘to propitiate the Mwali’s Mother, who is the imbuya or grand- 
mother of all the natives’. 1 

And if, as our evidence suggests, Tenkela is also to be associated 
with the Ndebele belief in Usalugazana there is additional reason 
to regard her as an important figure. Cockin, in his 1879 letter, 
referred to this personage as well as to the Mwari shrines. ‘To the 
north are a God and also a Goddess. The name of the Goddess is 
Salugazani.’ Hughes and Van Velsen, writing on Ndebele reli- 
gious belief, tell us that worship of Salugazana amounts almost to 
‘a parallel cult’. It is not surprising, then, that Tenkela should 
have been consulted by Ndebele leaders as well as Mkwati. ‘It 
has been reported to me’, wrote Father Prestage in April 1896, 
‘that Umpotshana . . . went at the beginning of the last hoping to 
consult Usalukazana (mother of Mlimo). She advised that the 
Amandebele should kill the white man in the country outside 
Bulawayo, undertaking to send a bolt of fire to destroy Bulawayo 
with its inhabitants at the time of rain.’ 2 

Mkwati’s other ally was Siginyamatshe, the ‘stone-swallower’, 
whose real name was Siminya. Siginyamatshe, a prominent 
Mwari messenger, lived at the Ntembeni kraal in the neighbour- 
hood of Bulawayo. He had a considerable reputation as a wonder 
worker. At his trial in 1898 one witness testified, according to the 
obviously hostile and slanted report in the magazine, Rhodesia , 
that Siginyamatshe ‘would go down on his hands and knees and 
imitate animals. On one occasion he butted with his head a big 
stone on which they ground their corn and broke the stone in 
halves. The people on that occasion were quite convinced he was 
supernatural and went forth to murder the whites with cheerful 

1 Mhlope, op. cit., Malema’s statement, August 1896, LO 5/6/2; N.C. 
Chibi to Superintendent of Natives, Victoria, N 3/33/12. 

2 Prestage to C.N.C., 24 Apr. 1896, A 10/1/2. 


ardour.’ Siginyamatshe worked particularly with the Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo shrine. In 1898 also one of the subordinate officers of that 
shrine, Matafeni, was reported as saying that ‘messengers were 
sent round to the people to come and see the prisoner, who was 
described as the wonderful child of the Mlimo. When a number of 
them arrived, the prisoner would be found talking to Mkwati. 
Mkwati would then mysteriously disappear. As a matter of fact, 
he would slink round the hill and get into a cave and between the 
two of them they would deceive the people and induce them to 
murder the whites.’ 1 

Our sources agree that Mkwati and these formidable allies 
exercised a powerful influence on the Shona peoples of north and 
north-east Matabeleland. By basing himself at Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo, the site of the last Zimbabwe of the Mambos, Mkwati 
was appealing to memories of the old confederacy. Some of his 
most militant supporters, the men who formed his personal body- 
guard and were remarkable for the fanaticism with which they 
upheld the cause of the rebellion, were Rozwis of the Inyati area. 
And, as we shall see, Mkwati had close connections with the cult 
officers of the Hartley and Charter districts of western Mashona- 
land which were to be of the greatest importance in linking the 
Shona with the Ndebele rising. 

How Mkwati acted as a link between the Ndebele commanders 
and the Shona peoples of the north and north-east is shown by 
the case of the Rozwi chief Uwini. Uwini was one of the most in- 
fluential chiefs of the Gwelo district. According to the Bulawayo 
Sketch he ‘was a chief well known from the Limpopo to the Zam- 
besi. By his possession of a stronghold, which is a natural fortress 
pierced by caves running in all directions and well supplied with 
water from subterranean springs running through them, he suc- 
cessfully defied Lobengula and his impis for years and was after- 
wards left severely alone.’ His hostility to the Ndebele is well 
attested from other sources. Yet in March 1896 Uwini was the 
‘instigator’ of rebellion among the Shona peoples of the Gwelo 
area, despatching his men ‘to kill white people near the Gwelo 
river’. Thereafter he remained an obdurate leader of the rebellion 
and ‘withstood all endeavours to be brought peacefully into sub- 

Uwini and Mkwati were closely allied. Mkwati had married 
1 ‘How the rebellion was worked’, Rhodesia , 7 May 1898. 



one of the Rozwi chief’s daughters. In his turn Uwini was re- 
garded as particularly responsible to Mwari and his priesthood. 
In October 1896 he was described by a Native Commissioner as 
‘an Induna appointed by the Mlimo to compel the allegiance of 
the Maholi to his cause’; Baden-Powell wrote that ‘Uwini was one 
of the chief leaders of the rebellion and was supposed by his people 
to be one of the chiefs appointed by the Mlimo and therefore im- 
mortal’. As far as the Shona of the Gwelo area were concerned 
the rising was a matter of the old alliance between Rozwi secular 
authority and the Mwari cult rather than a matter of response to 
Ndebele overlordship. 1 

We have now shown how the Mwari cult could be — and was — 
used to help bring the Holi of the old Ndebele home area, the 
Karanga of Belingwe, the Rozwi and other Shona groups of 
Gwelo and Selukwe into the rising in March 1896. But there 
remains a good deal more to say of the role of the Mwari cult in 
1896. Important though it was in mobilizing men who were not 
responsive to the influence of the Ndebele royal family or regi- 
mental commanders, this was by no means its only importance. 

By 1896 many of the Zansi and the Enhla castes of the Ndebele 
themselves extended respect and even devotion to the leading 
officers of the Mwari cult and there is no doubt that men like 
Mkwati and Siginyamatshe played an important part not only in 
bringing out the Shona but in directing the first murders of whites 
by Ndebele and in bringing the Ndebele regiments together 
around Bulawayo. Just before news came into Bulawayo of the 
first murders, for instance, Acting Administrator Duncan received 
a letter of warning from a settler who was in touch with ‘our old 
guide, Munisi — the man who led the Salisbury and Victoria 
columns into this country’ in 1893. Munisi reported on the acti- 
vities of the Mwari messengers among both the Shona and the 
Ndebele. ‘He stated the God — Mulima — was amongst the 
MaHolis . . . and had called the natives in to do homage to him.’ 
It seems highly probable that Mkwati was being referred to in 
this passage and those that follow. ‘He informed them to go and 
put handles on their assegais — those who had hidden their arms 

1 Bulawayo Sketch, 24 Oct. 1896; R. S. Baden-Powell, The Campaign in Rhodesia, 
Dublin, March 1897; Fynn to Baden-Powell, 1 Oct. 1896; Gielgud to Baden- 
Powell, 1 Oct. 1896; proceedings of the court martial of Uwini, 13 Sept. 1896; 
PO 1/1/1. 


when the country was taken to take them from their hiding places 
and clean them as he was going to kill all the white people after 
the corn was reaped. . . . One of the messengers sent by Mulima 
. . . told one of Munisi’s boys that the God had sent him to tell 
all the Matabeles to arm at once. The God also stated that he had 
an army of his own coming but would not bring it in before the 
corn was reaped. The whites had destroyed his power — now he 
intended to destroy them. . . . Your police (native) must have all 
this information but do not tell you of it — they are not faithful to 
you.’ The settler author of this remarkable warning added that 
‘the Mulima had sent several days before I got to Shangani to 
call all natives from the Inxla, Halolodhlo and Insiza districts in 
to him’. 1 

The warning was too late, being written as the first murders 
were being committed. There is no doubt that Mkwati was 
deeply involved in those committed in the Inyati area at least. 
The Ndebele warrior, Nganganyoni Mhlope, tells us that ‘the 
first place where we started to fight was Inyati. . . . We had news 
from the Matopos that the Mlimo was going to help us. . . . We 
were going to kill all white people because we had news that the 
Mlimo was going to help us. . . . Mkwati brought back the mes- 
sage from the Mlimo. . . . We did not touch anything at the 
store’ at Taba Zi Ka Mambo ‘because we had been told that we 
were not to touch anything belonging to the white people. We 
were told that the Mlimo would come and take them. There was 
a man who was delivering the message. His name was Mkwati and 
he came round collecting all the things. . . . When we killed the 
white people it took some time and Mkwati came and stayed at 
the store and told us all to bring everything there. He was just like 
an Nkosi.’ 2 

While Mkwati was bringing out the north-east into rebellion, 
Siginyamatshe was playing the same part in the kraals immedi- 
ately to the south of Bulawayo. ‘Umgalu, induna of the Elibeni 
kraal,’ runs a report of Siginyamatshe’s trial, ‘said that the 
accused came to his kraal just before the fighting. He came with a 
lot of girls in front, who were jumping and dancing and clapping 
their hands; he said he came from the Mlimo. He said, “You must 
close up the road and if any white men come you must kill them.” 
They covered the road as they were told.’ One is reminded here 

1 Napier to Duncan, 24 Mar. 1896, A 10/1/1. 2 Mhlope, op. cit. 


of Thomas’ account of the entry of the Mwari officers into the 
Ndebele kraals in the last months of Mzilikazi’s reign. ‘One of 
these young men, covered all over with ornaments, which con- 
sisted of buttons, beads, bangles, shells and various kinds of 
charms, entering into a village or town so overawes and allures 
the inhabitants that they are soon entirely in his power. That his 
favour may be secured, presents are heaped upon him, while he 
in turn, finding that he has become the real lord of the place, does 
as he likes — commands, orders, sends, or calls whomsoever he 
pleases.’ ‘Had it not been for the accused’, commented the judge 
at Siginyamatshe’s trial, ‘many of the natives around Bulawayo 
would not have arisen.’ 1 

It is also clear that the Mwari officers continued to play an 
important part in maintaining Ndebele morale in the first months 
of the rising. The military command of the campaign, which re- 
mained in the hands of the regimental indunas , was less important 
in many ways than the moral command, which as we shall see was 
exercised by Mkwati and his fellows. The main thing was to get 
the impis to the Bulawayo area and then to persuade them to stay 
there after their defeats; there was little enough of military tactics 
once they were there. ‘All through they behaved in an incom- 
prehensible manner,’ wrote Selous, who expected Ndebele regi- 
ments to behave like coordinated armies, as in 1893, ‘their leaders 
apparently never having arranged any settled plan of campaign, 
the consequence being that there has never been any understand- 
ing or community of action between the various hordes into 
which the nation is now divided. All through there appears to 
have been a general belief amongst them that they would receive 
supernatural aid from Umlimo or God, but . . . they would have 
done far better had they worked together under one intelligent 
general.’ Yet as we have seen there was no single commander 
acceptable to all the Ndebele rebels, and Baden-Powell’s estimate 
of the contribution of the Mwari cult to the rebel military offensive 
was probably a juster one. ‘They were fanatics,’ he told a Dublin 
audience in 1897, describing the Ndebele rebels. ‘They believed 
everything Mlimo told them and this really accounted for much 
of their courage.’ 2 

1 Thomas, op. cit., Rhodesia, 9 July 1898. 

2 Selous, Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia, 1896; R. S. Baden-Powell, The 
Campaign in Rhodesia, 1897. 


Thus the senior Mwari officers were most intimately involved 
with the Ndebele leadership. Indeed, the division among the 
Ndebele was to some extent reflected in the Mwari cult as well. 
Umlugulu and the senior indunas worked mostly with Mwabani of 
Matonjeni and with the Njelele officers; Mpotshwana and the 
younger men worked rather with Mkwati and Siginyamatshe. 
The character of the alliance between the Ndebele leaders and 
the Mwari priests has been variously described. Selous held that 
the cult had ‘only been an instrument employed by the actual 
leaders of the insurrection to work upon the superstitions of the 
people’, and more recently Blake-Thompson and Summers have 
told us that ‘the subservience of the cult to the Matabele was made 
abundantly clear in 1896’. But these estimates are almost certainly 
wrong. 1 

The evidence already cited suggests that merely to say that ‘the 
Umlimo was made use of for the purpose of the present rebellion 
by Umlugulu’ is not an adequate account of what happened in 
1896. As we have seen there was a clear distinction between the 
interests of the cult and those of Lobengula in 1893 and sub- 
sequently the cult appears to have achieved increasing influence 
over the Ndebele rather than becoming more subservient to them. 
In 1896 both Umlugulu and most of the Mwari priesthood 
favoured rebellion; there was community of interest on that point. 
But Mkwati and his fellows were, after all, appealing to groups 
whose interests were very different from those of the Ndebele; 
groups which responded to the appeal not because the Mwari 
officers were allies of Umlugulu or Mpotshwana but because they 
spoke to their memories of the pre-Ndebele past. 

Let us take the example of Mkwati and the Rozwi groups of the 
north-east. These groups certainly had no reason to love the 
Ndebele state. Writing in 1893 the missionary, Elliott, told how 
the Rozwi of the Inyati area complained; ‘ “How can we pray 
now that the Ma Tebele have conquered us. We are afraid to go 
pa dzimbabwe (to the graves) but offer our little offerings in our 
villages and houses. Our oppressors have taken all we had.” 
Sometimes they, too, mourn over the departed glories of their race.’ 
The hostility of Mkwati’s father-in-law, Uwini, to the Ndebele 
was obvious enough to provoke a remarkable account by the 
Native Commissioner, Inyati, of a Rozwi plot against the Ndebele! 

1 Selous, op. cit; Blake-Thompson and Summers, op. cit. 


‘Uwinya was a chieftain of the AbaLozwi tribe, tributary to 
Lobengula, and lived at the Madwaleni mouth of the Shangani,’ 
wrote Fynn in October 1896. ‘He consulted with Umkwati . . . 
and these two having laid their heads together and having in 
common a bitter personal and tribal feeling against the Matabele 
and having probably been approached by the Chiefs of the latter 
with a request for aid in the rebellion they were fomenting against 
the White man, made a deep scheme for the destruction and com- 
plete humiliation of their hereditary foes, the Matabele. This 
scheme was as follows: Umkwati was to concede the requests of 
the Chiefs and prophecy the extinction of the whites and the 
success of the rebels, thus strengthening the hands of the Chiefs, 
as without the divine aid of the Mlimo the common people could 
not have been persuaded to rise. The far-seeing Umkwati had no 
doubt that the ultimate success would be with the whites, and 
then Uwinya would play his part. The part of the country occu- 
pied by him is one which would from its position be naturally used 
as a place to flee to, and there the Matabele went upon their 
forces being broken up by the whites in the southern parts of the 
country. There also went Umkwati, who had allied himself to 
Uwinya by marrying his daughter. Uwinya then laid himself out 
to discourage by every means in his power the surrender of the 
Matabele and for that purpose he established a force which he 
called “Police”, whose work was to kill all natives who showed 
any intention of surrendering, and they did their work thoroughly. 
The Natives who remained would become a prey to famine and 
the young women and girls would become wives to Uwinya’s 
people, whereby he would be able to make his own tribe more 
powerful.’ Fynn thought that this scheme had worked well and 
that in this way Mkwati and Uwini had taken their revenge on 
the Ndebele for the overthrow of the Rozwi confederacy. The idea 
that Mkwati plotted the downfall of the Ndebele from the begin- 
ning is, of course, absurdly improbable, but Fynn’s account could 
only have been given in the context of a bitter divergence between 
Mkwati and his Ndebele allies. How this difference arose we shall 
see later but it should be stressed here that it was implicit from the 
beginning. The Shona peoples to whom Mkwati and the other 
priests appealed joined in the rising to safeguard their interests and 
their ‘way of life’, not to restore the Ndebele monarchy. They had 
at no time any intention of being the tools of the Ndebele and, as 


we shall see, their rebellion continued even after the Ndebele 
aristocracy had made a peace which preserved something of their 
authority but which was irrelevant to the concerns of their Shona 
allies. 1 

The rising in Matabeleland, then, was a coalition of different, 
and even hostile, groups combined in the common interest of over- 
throwing the whites. That these groups were able to launch an 
attack on outlying whites which was roughly synchronized and 
to put into the field a force to invest Bulawayo was partly due to 
the continued authority and efficiency of Ndebele institutions and 
partly due to the existence of a widely influential religious or- 
ganization which was at one and the same time in touch with the 
Ndebele leadership and with men of influence and decision in the 
tributary Shona areas. In some of these areas — the Kalanga 
country of the south-west, for example — the men of authority 
combined with senior Mwari officers to keep their people out of 
the rising; in other areas— Ndanga and Chibi, for instance — men 
of authority kept their people out of the rising despite the contrary 
advice of the Mwari priesthood. But in most parts of Matabele- 
land the Shona men of authority joined with the Mwari priests to 
bring out their people in an alliance of convenience with the 
Ndebele. By so doing they made the rising much more formidable, 
not so much because they provided additional fighting men for 
the impis ringing Bulawayo, but because they forced whites almost 
everywhere else in Matabeleland onto the defensive and threatened 
to disrupt communications between Bulawayo and the outside 

We have seen how and to what extent the Ndebele leadership 
succeeded in spreading the rising within Matabeleland. We shall 
see later in what way the rebellion spread to Mashonaland. Here 
we can mention the repercussions of the rising outside Southern 
Rhodesia. When the news of the rising reached South Africa many 
feared that it would be the signal for a general challenge to white 
rule by blacks. It did, indeed, have far-reaching effects on race 
relations and it probably sparked off the Southern Tswana rising 
of 1897. But there was no general rallying to the Ndebele cause. 

The Ndebele state had been bitterly unpopular with its African 
neighbours. Khama of Bechuanaland, who could have cut the 
road to the south and doomed Bulawayo had he and his people 
1 Fynn to Baden-Powell, 1 Oct. 1896, PO 1/1/1. 


joined the rising, had no sympathy with the rebels. Despite his 
growing dislike of the Company he stood by his traditional policy 
of support for them against the Ndebele. He had sent runners 
ahead of the Pioneer Column in 1890 advising the Sliona chiefs 
to submit; he had sent numbers of his fighting men with Goold 
Adams’ southern column in 1893; now he was prepared to allow 
the recruitment of ‘friendlies’ from among his people and gave all 
facilities for transport through his country. 

Lewanika of Barotseland was less strategically placed, and could 
hardly have affected the struggle much had he supported the 
rebels. The significance of his hostility to them was more that the 
northern escape route, which they might otherwise have taken 
after their defeat outside Bulawayo, was cut off. ‘The King is 
sending orders to his son Litia to stop any Matabele who hence- 
forth would seek refuge in his country,’ ran a letter from Lewanika 
to the Acting Chief Native Commissioner in May 1896. ‘The King 
is very anxious in hearing of the Matabele rebellion and hopes the 
Government will soon beat them a second time.’ Lewanika gave 
refuge to traders and missionaries in northern Matabeleland who 
were threatened by Mpotshwana, and arrested and held prisoner 
members of the Ndebele royal family later in the year when they 
were trying to escape across the Zambesi. 1 

Thus although in some ways the March rising in Matabeleland 
displayed a surprising ability to coordinate and cooperate, in 
other ways it showed the characteristic weaknesses and divisions 
of nineteenth-century African revolts. Neither within nor without 
Matabeleland was there a common rallying to an anti-white 
cause. Inside Matabeleland important Ndebele groups under 
Gambo, Mjaan and Faku remained ‘loyal’ throughout the rising 
and the south-western Kalanga also refused to participate. Out- 
side Matabeleland Khama and Lewanika remained faithful to 
their chosen policy of cooperation with the whites. And even in 
the ranks of the rebels themselves there were serious divisions — 
between Umlugulu’s ‘party’ and Mpotshwana’s ‘party’; between 
the Ndebele and the Shona tributary peoples — which were to have 
their effect upon the course of the rising after the first unanimous 
triumphant days. 

1 Lewanika to Acting C.N.C., 25 May 1896; petition by Cook, 21 June 1921; 
A 3/18/18/5. 

5. Mashonaland in 1896-7 


The Relief of Bulawayo 
and the 'Shooting of the Mlimo’ 

When later leaders of African opposition to white control in 
Southern Rhodesia looked back to nineteenth-century resistance 
movements it was this lack of unity which struck them most 
forcibly. Thus in 1929, when the Bulawayo branch of the Industrial 
and Commercial Workers’ Union was endeavouring to bring 
radical politics to the African workers of Southern Rhodesia, 
their speakers hammered away at the need for unity if any im- 
pression was to be made upon the whites. Tf Lobengula had 
wanted to,’ said one speaker, ‘he would have called every nation 
to help him. He did not. That is why he was conquered. In 
Somaliland they are still fighting. That is because they are united. 
Let us be united.’ ‘You see you cannot conquer the white people,’ 
said another, ‘because they are united. If you fight one white man 
the whole group will come upon you. Do not say “I am a Blan- 
tyrer or a Sindebele”. Then we shall obtain our country.’ 1 

This was certainly a reasonable lesson to draw from African ex- 
perience but it considerably over-estimated past white solidarity. In 
the crisis of 1896 Rhodesian whites also found themselves almost 
cripplingly divided. Settlers were divided from the Company ad- 
ministration and both from the Imperial Government. The white 
governments of Southern Africa were unable to give combined 
support to their fellows in Rhodesia because of the divisions be- 
tween Boer and Briton. These divisions affected white response to 
the Ndebele rising as much as African divisions affected its conduct. 

The old alliance between the settlers and the Company on 
which the occupation of Mashonaland and the defeat of the 
Ndebele in 1893 had been based broke down in the face of the 
rising in Matabeleland. With every reason the white population 
of Bulawayo blamed the Company for the withdrawal of the 

1 Speeches by John Mphamba and Peter Mfulu, C.I.D. report, 29 June 
1929, S 84/A/300. 


Police for the Jameson Raid; with less reason they blamed it for 
what they regarded as a soft Native Policy. In late March and 
early April feeling in the beleaguered city ran very high against 
the Company and its administration. This feeling was intensified 
by the Company’s initial absurd complacency. ‘Reuters agency 
is informed upon inquiry at the offices of the British South Africa 
Company’, reported the British press on March 28th, ‘that the 
directors of that Company do not attach any great importance to 
the native rising in Matabeleland. The trouble ... is not in the 
least likely to extend. The people of Rhodesia were never better 
prepared to meet an outbreak on the part of the natives, and the 
volunteer force entitled the Rhodesian Horse is regarded as fully 
capable of dealing with the rebels.’ 1 

The whites of Bulawayo finding themselves extremely ill pre- 
pared to meet an outbreak were concerned that a more accurate 
version of events should reach the outside world. ‘We have reason 
to believe’, wrote the missionary, Cullen Reed, from Bulawayo 
on April 10th, ‘that the Govt, here is stopping all letters and tele- 
grams to people at home in order to conceal the very serious state 
of affairs here. Not only do the Matabele hold the whole country 
but there is a very considerable danger of famine here owing to 
the impossibility of reaping the crops and since all the oxen are 
dead. . . . Over a hundred whites have been massacred. Two 
columns sent out recently; one 200 strong has been driven back 
with loss of commanding officers . . . one 100 strong has with 
great difficulty cut its way back into town today, 6 killed, 19 
wounded. Populace speak of lynching Acting Administrator, 
believed to be bribed by the Company to conceal the true serious- 
ness of the situation.’ Acting Administrator Duncan escaped this 
fate but Lord Grey found the hostility still bitter when he arrived 
a month later in Bulawayo. ‘Shortly after my arrival here’, he 
wrote wryly to his son, ‘they held a public meeting in the Square 
and passed a resolution unanimously to the effect that the gaol 
should be cleared of all its occupants and the Administrator and 
other members of the Government take their place.’ 2 

1 The Globe, 28 Mar. 1896; this and many other press cuttings are preserved 
in a series of files compiled by the Company’s London Office, now catalogued 
as files S 142/4/1-6. 

2 Reed to Thompson, 10 Apr. 1896, L.M.S., Matabele Mission, Vol. 5, 
No. 97; Grey to Charles Grey, 15 June 1896, GR 1/1/1. 


Nor did the whites in Matabeleland feel any more kindly to- 
wards the Imperial Government. As a result of the Jameson Raid 
the Imperial Government had imposed tight controls on military 
or police activity in Rhodesia. No military mobilization could 
take place without the sanction of the High Commissioner and all 
ammunition and arms in Bulawayo were placed under the control 
of an Imperial officer, Captain Nicholson. There is no doubt that 
these cumbrous arrangements did delay an immediately effective 
reaction to the first news of the rising. Thus on March 24th, when 
news of the killing of whites in the Filabusi district reached Bula- 
wayo, and patrols were raised to ‘relieve the white men in the 
Inceza district and then to take the necessary measures to settle 
the district’, there was a twenty-four hour delay while the High 
Commissioner’s permission was sought for the despatch of the 
patrols and the issue of ammunition. It was not until the 25th that 
the Imperial Secretary replied that ammunition could be issued 
to ‘not more than 100 volunteers’ since the raising of a larger force 
than that would exacerbate feeling in the Transvaal! 1 

It became an article of settler belief that if the Company had 
been guilty of causing the rising or allowing it to happen the 
Imperial Government had been guilty of preventing its rapid 
suppression. In December 1896 one P. D. Crewe, giving evidence 
to a Bulawayo committee of inquiry, expressed the general 
opinion. ‘When the news came of murder outside it was decided 
to send out a number of men, but the difficulty was that at the 
time the ammunition was in the hands of the Imperial Govern- 
ment . . . the patrol was stopped at the Umgusa for quite a day. 
... It was common report in the town that they could not get 
ammunition. I consider that had the rebellion been dealt with 
promptly it could never have attained its ultimate dimensions and 
had the patrol got away at once it might have put an end to the out- 
break.’ And the point was made more sharply by the Chairman of 
the inquiry— ‘The rebellion could have been quelled at the outset 
had the Imperial Government not stepped in and stopped it.’ 2 

Nor, finally, could the sore-pressed whites of Rhodesia look for 
help to their nearest white neighbours. Suspicion between Briton 
and Boer was running so high at that time, indeed, that the 

1 Duncan to Secretary, Gape Town, 24 Mar. 1896; Imperial Secretary to 
Secretary, Cape Town, 25 Mar. 1896; LO 5/2/47; CT 1/19/3. 

2 Evidence of P. D. Crewe, 3 Dec. 1896, Appendix 7, Blue Book C. 8547. 


settlers of Matabeleland were inclined to believe that their 
Afrikaaner neighbours in the Transvaal were behind the whole 
rising! A Rhodesian settler, writing in the Pall Mall Gazette on 
April 17th, remarked that ‘the Chartered Company in accord- 
ance with our English policy has always favoured Boer immigra- 
tion within their territories. There are in consequence a number 
of Boers in Matabeleland, all of whom are agents — in some cases 
paid agents — of the South African Republic. These Boers who 
are as a body more in touch with the natives than the British 
settlers, have undoubtedly spread abroad exaggerated reports of 
the defeat of Dr Jameson’s expedition and the collapse of the 
Jo’burg insurrection and have led the natives to believe that their 
conquerors are not as formidable as they imagined. There can be 
no doubt also that the Boers have bought cattle largely from the 
natives . . . and that the cattle so purchased . . . have been paid 
for by the surreptitious sale of guns. . . . Had it not been for the 
action of the Boers the native rising against the authority of the 
Chartered Co. would never have assumed serious proportions 
even supposing it had taken place.’ Speculations even more im- 
probable were made. ‘It is an open secret’, wrote the Morning Post 
on March 28th, ‘that the Boers have long had their agents in 
Matabeleland, and it is not at all impossible that the witch doctor 
considered that the moment was a convenient one to remind the 
natives of the increasing power of President Kruger.’ It was a far 
cry from the days of 1893 when Jameson could suggest that a Boer 
commando be used to help deal with Lobengula. 1 

In this crisis, distrustful of the Company, of the Imperial 
Government and of the Transvaal, the settlers of Matabeleland 
determined that in future they would achieve the power to protect 
themselves. ‘There is full determination in the minds of the people’, 
wrote the Bulawayo Sketch on April 18th 1896, ‘that our future 
welfare shall be no more at the mercy of deputies or clerks or 
sacrificed to the exigencies of the Company’s interests.’ This 
determination was to play a significant part in the making of the 
settlement after the rising was suppressed. 

1 It should perhaps be added that as late as October 1897 Rhodes wrote to 
the new Administrator, Milton: ‘I should certainly let the world know that 
from evidence in your possession you believe the Transvaal did assist the 
Matabele with arms.’ Rhodes to Milton, 7 Oct. 1897, Rhodes House Mss. 
Afr. s. 227, Vol. 12. 



Meanwhile there was a crisis also for the officers of the Com- 
pany. For here was a situation which could no longer be dealt with 
by giving full scope to the initiative of the men on the spot. Early 
in April the facts of the situation were spelt out by a distinguished 
group of ‘old hands’ in Bulawayo. Colenbrander, Selous, Frank 
Rhodes and others waited on Acting Administrator Duncan to 
give him their opinion that the rising was a much more formidable 
military proposition than the 1893 war. It could not be dealt with 
by the Rhodesia Florse and so far from the settlers being in a good 
position to meet the outbreak, ‘there was a great deal of dis- 
satisfaction in the community and a general feeling that the 
Chartered Company by supineness has caused this present diffi- 
culty, and we doubt whether at a serious juncture the present 
enrolled troops can be depended upon to maintain order and 
discipline’. 1 

With gloomy relish the ‘old hands’ set out the unpalatable 
necessities. ‘You want men enrolled for the special purpose of a 
war and not merely volunteers who are enrolled for the defence of 
their own homes. For these reasons we consider that you would 
not subjugate the Matabele within the next five months with less 
than 1300. The expense attached to the commissariat department 
for this force will be enormous owing to the cattle disease but 
otherwise we think you will be carrying on a desultory warfare for 
a year or more and meantime the whole of the outside districts 
will remain depopulated and all mining operations will be 
stopped.’ Gradually and reluctantly the Company came to terms 
with the need to meet an ‘enormous’ expense and to raise special 

But the very raising of such forces was itself complicated by the 
tensions between Boer and Briton in South Africa and by the 
suspicious watchfulness which the Imperial Government now 
exercised over the Company’s activities. Thus, in the dire emer- 
gency of the first days of the rising and faced with the prospect of 
the total severance of his communications with the south, Acting 
Administrator Duncan suggested that the Company should at 
once recruit and arm 500 men and send them by the quickest 
route— through the Transvaal — to effect a junction with him 
south of Bulawayo. But on representations from Rhodes he at once 
withdrew what would in other circumstances have been an 
1 Rhodes to High Commissioner, 12 Apr. 1896, LO 5/2/48. 


eminently sensible suggestion, and when his proposal reached the 
attention of the London Board of the Company it was stigmatized 
as ‘preposterous’. Even when the necessity to bring troops up by 
the longer route through Bechuanaland had been accepted there 
were further difficulties over the raising of the 500 men. At the end 
of March Duncan had issued orders to Rutherfoord Harris at 
Kimberley to enrol ‘a very hard active force which would have to 
operate on foot if necessary’, suggesting that the core of it might 
be members of Jameson’s raiding party, now released and desirous 
of returning to Rhodesia. But it was hardly likely that the Im- 
perial Government would allow the reconstitution of the Company 
force which had raided the Transvaal. On April 1st Harris was 
informed by the Cape Town office of the Company that ‘the High 
Commissioner has received instructions from the Secretary of 
State . . . that the force raised is to be under the command of 
Imperial officers. 200 men are already on their way from England. 
An Imperial officer, Colonel Plumer, proceeds to Kimberley by 
tomorrow night’s train to enrol the remainder. . . . Under these 
circumstances the High Commissioner cannot sanction the raising 
of any force by you on your own initiative.’ 1 

The Company did its best to reduce both the expense and the 
extent of Imperial intervention which these arrangements in- 
volved. Lord Grey was appalled at the difficulty and cost of trans- 
porting and supplying such a force. ‘The transport problem still 
appears to me to be very much more formidable than the native,’ 
he wrote on April 1 ith. ‘Under the most favourable circumstances 
transport wagons take a good deal over a month from Mafeking 
to Bulawayo when the roads are at their best, with oxen instead of 
mules and without any fear of native attacks. As the roads are still 
off and we shall have to rely on mules . . . and we shall have to 
take certain precautions as to possible native surprises the task of 
moving supplies and ammunition into Bulawayo will not be an 
easy one.’ Accordingly Grey attempted to persuade the Imperial 
authorities to bear part of the cost. The Company did not need, 
he protested, ‘so large a force of white men as it would appear 
Colonel Plumer has been authorized to raise and his Lordship 
concludes that the force is also partly required for the protection 
of the Bechuanaland Protectorate in the event of a native dis- 
turbance occurring there and that the Imperial Government will 
1 Secretary, Cape Town, to Harris, 1 Apr. 1896, CT 1/19/3. 



be willing to defray a portion of the expenses.’ As for the employ- 
ment of British officers on full pay, the Company assumed that 
they would have ‘the option of terminating this arrangement 
without notice when the services of Imperial Officers are no 
longer required’. 1 

But events were in fact pushing the Company into a position 
where it had to accept both more expense and further Imperial 
control. The tone of English press comment, at first optimistic, 
began to change as reports from Bulawayo came in. In the first 
week of April the press began to demand that the British Govern- 
ment take adequate steps to deal with the situation and not leave 
it to the Company’s ‘half trained and badly disciplined levies to 
cope with a rising which may rapidly extend until it covers the 
whole vast territory between the Limpopo and the Zambesi’. In 
the light of press comments such as this, the Colonial Secretary, 
Joseph Chamberlain, wired to the High Commissioner on April 9th: 
‘It is evident that the Matabele insurrection is a very serious 
matter and that its importance has hitherto been underestimated. 
Are you absolutely certain that the precautions you are taking will 
furnish force amply sufficient to put it down? The history of war 
with South African natives contains several disasters both to 
Colonial and Imperial troops. A disaster to the force attacking the 
Matopo Hills would probably entail loss of life to very many of 
the white inhabitants of Matabeleland and Mashonaland and this 
would entail the sending out of an expeditionary force from this 
country. Public opinion would be certain to fix responsibility for 
such a disaster upon Her Majesty’s Government and upon your- 
self.’ 2 

The High Commissioner at first replied that Grey seemed to 
feel that 500 men were more than enough to deal with the situa- 
tion. But a few days later the mounting tension in Bulawayo had 
its effect. On April 12th the deputation of ‘old hands’ waited on 
Duncan with the advice already cited; he at once wired to the 
High Commissioner asking for at least another 500 men. Rhodes 
also cabled from the Gwelo laager in support of this request. The 
High Commissioner responded immediately and offered Grey 500 

1 Acting Secretary, Cape Town, to Imperial Secretary, 10 Apr. 1896, 
CT 1/19/3; Grey to his wife, 1 1 Apr. 1896, GR 1/1/1. 

2 Colonial Secretary to High Commissioner, 9 Apr. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., 
No. 520, p. 16. 


troops of the Imperial forces then stationed in Natal. Grey 
pondered the offer in much agony of mind. He had been out of 
telegraphic communication with Rhodesia and knew nothing of 
the opinions expressed by Duncan and Rhodes. He realized the 
full implications of accepting the services of Imperial troops and 
accepting the direction of the campaign by Imperial officers. This 
had been avoided in 1890 and in 1893; if at all possible it should 
surely be avoided now. There was the enormous expense to con- 
sider also. In short by accepting the offer Grey knew that he was 
endangering the position of the Company; that the financial bur- 
den might prove too heavy to bear; that the exercise of British 
authority once begun might not be withdrawn. On the other hand 
a military disaster in Rhodesia would bring a more rapid end to 
the Company’s ambitions. So Grey accepted. ‘Had one sleepless 
night after I had accepted the High Commissioner’s offer,’ he 
confided to his wife. T was satisfied that the critical character of 
the situation made this necessary and so accepted the offer on my 
own responsibility without consulting anyone. The wires were 
closed ... so I could not consult Rhodes. I was afraid that he and 
the Board might think I had acted with unnecessary precipitation 
in accepting Imperial troops . . . and it was a great relief to me 
when I got a wire from Rhodes two days afterwards advising me 
to accept the High Commissioner’s offer at once.’ 1 
The implications of the commitment of Imperial troops to 
Rhodesia were rapidly apparent. The High Commissioner in- 
sisted that the Company should meet all costs — T am afraid the 
expense is going to be enormous’, Grey told Rhodes on April 1 7th. 
At the same time the British Government demanded control of 
both the military and political aspects of operations in Matabele- 
land. On April 13th Chamberlain noted ‘with some surprise’ in a 
despatch to the High Commissioner ‘that whereas one day Lord 
Grey . . . objects to the numbers of your proposed relief column 
as excessive, two days later he presses urgently for 750 more men. 
In these circumstances Her Majesty’s Government feel that they 
cannot absolutely rely on the opinions expressed by the repre- 
sentatives of the Company.’ Four days later he announced 
decisions which removed the conduct of the war and the making of 
the subsequent settlement from the hands of these unreliable 
representatives. Command of all forces in Rhodesia — the Rhodesia 
1 Grey to his wife, 18 Apr. 1896, GR 1/1/1. 


I 7 I 

Horse and other settler units, the 500 specially raised men under 
Plumer, and the 500 Imperial troops from Natal — was to be given 
to ‘a military officer on full pay’. Sir Frederick Carrington had 
been nominated by the War Office for this position. The political 
aspects of suppressing the rebellion were to be the sole responsi- 
bility of Sir Richard Martin, Imperial Deputy Commissioner, 
who was to decide ‘to what extent punitive measures are neces- 
sary’. 1 

On April 25th Chamberlain spelt out to Carrington the division 
of power between him and Martin. Carrington was to have 
supreme command of all operations, remembering the need to 
allow ‘much latitude ... to men commanding temporary levies 
of settlers and working from isolated centres for the common 
cause’. As for Martin, once the military defeat of the rising was 
assured, he would ‘practically control your operations against the 
remnant of the rebellion, for it will devolve on him to judge what 
punitive measures are necessary and permissible and as to accept- 
ing the submission of the rebels and other measures connected 
with the pacification of the country and the future of the natives’. 2 

Divisions among the whites, then, did not in the end result in 
failure to provide a force strong enough to deal with the rising. 
But the force when raised was controlled by a variety of authorities 
which rivalled the divisions among the Ndebele rebels between 
Umfezela and Nyamanda, Umlugulu and Mkwati. ‘I should like 
to know how you find the system of government to work,’ wrote 
Acting High Commissioner Goodenough to Carrington in July 
1896. ‘There is a sort of Triumverate and I think none but 
Englishmen, who give and take, could make it work.’ 3 

Even among Englishmen the system did not work very well. 
The different assumptions, responsibilities and interests of the 
members of the Triumverate — Carrington, Martin and Grey — 
were bound to produce friction. On personal grounds Carrington 
was in fact very acceptable to Rhodesians generally. An astute 
Rhodesian police officer had thus described him on an earlier 
visit to the Colony. ‘When fighting or sport of any kind is going 

1 Notes of telephone conversations between Grey, Duncan and Rhodes, 
14 and 17 Apr. 1896, LO 5/2/48; Chamberlain to Robinson, 13 Apr. 1896, 
C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, p. 21. 

2 Chamberlain to Carrington, 25 Apr. 1896, ibid., No. 517, pp. 105-7. 

3 Goodenough to Carrington, 8 July 1896, BA2/1/1. 


on he is in his element, and the more the danger the greater the 
element. To see him ride or shoot is to understand how, in his 
younger days, he raised colonial corps and commanded them by 
sheer force of strength and skill of fisticuffs; and to see him stand 
on his own strong legs, or bestriding a horse, he is a splendid speci- 
men of a man and a soldier — tall, active and daring.’ It was true 
that this observer went on to qualify his praise. ‘But it is in his 
physical accomplishments that Carrington principally shines and 
in comparison to them his mental development is very small. And 
while there is no danger that he would not face, he has not the 
head-piece to get a force out of a self-imposed predicament.’ This 
limitation, however, was overlooked by most Rhodesians until, 
perhaps, the stalemate in the Matopos reminded them uncomfort- 
ably of Carrington’s lack of imagination. For most whites in 
Matabeleland, Jarvis’ view that ‘Carrington is a clinker’ summed 
up the General well enough. 1 

But despite his popularity and despite the fact that he shared 
most white Rhodesian assumptions, allowing himself for instance 
to advocate the extermination or deportation of the Ndebele at a 
public banquet, Carrington came to have profound reservations 
about the men he was working with. He was a man of simple 
loyalties and strong personality. The attitude of both settlers and 
Company to the Imperial authority he represented was suffi- 
ciently equivocal to prevent any permanently cordial relationships 
with them. When he left Rhodesia at the end of 1896 Carrington 
summed up his views in a confidential report. ‘The officials of 
the Company both in Rhodesia and in England have — probably 
with a view to re-assuring the stock-market— systematically en- 
deavoured to make the least of the dangerous aspects of the 
rebellion; and possibly from a fear of the Imperial Government 
obtaining too strong a claim upon the country they have steadily 
opposed the bringing in of Imperial troops and have belittled or 
ignored the work done by those troops when brought in.’ As for 
the settlers, ‘the local forces, though possessed of individual cour- 
age, hardihood and aptitude for veld life, were difficult to work 
with. They were very independent, would not willingly do fort 
duty, long patrols or unpleasantly dangerous work. Their disci- 
pline, reconnaissance and shooting were poor.’ 2 

1 Leonard, How We Made Rhodesia, 1896. 

2 Carrington to High Commissioner, 4 Jan. 1897, PO 1/2/2. 



Sir Richard Martin’s responsibilities were such that he was even 
more likely to fall out with the Company’s representatives, and 
in his case the relationship was made more difficult by incompati- 
bilities of personality. Martin was the very embodiment of the 
stickler for routine whom Rhodes and his followers despised, but 
who was so much needed in Rhodesia. The first impressions of 
William Jarvis, writing in his new capacity as personal secretary 
to Lord Grey, were about the most charitable words ever penned 
on Martin by a Company supporter. ‘Sir Richard Martin is a 
nice man but a great deal too much the stereotyped official. We 
don’t want anything but rough and ready men for this sort of job.’ 
Before long Martin was figuring in Jarvis’ letters as ‘that consum- 
mate ass’ or ‘that silly old woman’. But however much the pre- 
cisian, Martin was a man of forceful personality, determined to 
make his authority felt. As we shall see, a series of clashes on a 
heroic scale arose between him and the Company representa- 
tives. 1 

The chief of these and third member of the Triumvirate was 
Lord Grey, undoubtedly the mildest and most self-doubting of 
the three. Milner, when High Commissioner, characterized him 
as a ‘reasonable and conciliatory creature’ and we have already 
seen instances of the diffidence with which he approached his task. 
It is true that he found that he was almost coming to enjoy it — 
‘I don’t think I have made a mistake so far’, he wrote to his son 
in June — but he never emerges from the correspondence of his 
subordinates as a strong man. Milton, his successor as Administra- 
tor, found him in September 1896 ‘very genial and pleasant but 
a little off hand and sketchy’. Grey’s mildness and sketchiness, 
however, did not unbalance the Triumvirate or leave the Com- 
pany in the weakest position. For behind Grey loomed the most 
forceful figure of all. ‘The Government is, as you suggest,’ Car- 
rington told Goodenough, ‘rather a difficult one, especially with 
the additional factor of the strongest mind among them occupying 
no recognized position.’ 2 

Behind Grey stood Rhodes. ‘Grey is Rhodes’ clerk’, wrote 
Milton unkindly, ‘and does what he is told.’ Rhodes, in disgrace, 

1 Jarvis to his mother, 27 June, 12 July, 27 Aug. 1896, JA 4/1 /i. 

2 Milner to Selborne, 15 June 1897, Headlam, op. cit., Vol. 1, pp. 109-11; 
Milton to his wife, 2 Sept. 1896, ML 1/1/2; Carrington to Goodenough, 25 
July 1896, BA 2/1/1. 


with no formal status whatever, having resigned his place on the 
Board of Directors, no longer possessing the Company’s power of 
attorney, and with no military or civil rank, was nevertheless a 
key figure in Rhodesia in 1896. One way of putting it would be 
to say that he played on the white side, at least as far as the settlers 
were concerned, the role that Mkwati and his fellows played for 
the rebels; he was the great inspirer of enthusiasm and morale. 
Able as always to attract to himself enlarging legendary stories, 
he came to represent for many whites their own situation on a 
heroic scale. Like them all his work was in ruins; like them he was 
fighting back — and fighting back with a conspicuous energy, 
resilience, ferocity. In what many of his biographers have agreed 
to call his ‘finest hour’, Rhodes was highly unlikely to tolerate the 
prosecution of war or the making of peace in a manner of which 
he disapproved. 1 

Now that we have seen something of the organization of the 
rebellion and the organization of white resistance to it, and identi- 
fied the leading figures on both sides, it is time to turn to the 
military operations themselves. 

At the beginning of April 1896 the forces of both the rebels and 
the whites were scattered over a large area of Matabeleland, the 
whites in laager in Bulawayo, Mangwe, Gwelo and Belingwe, the 
rebels holding the greater part of the countryside. The key area 
was clearly Bulawayo and both the rebels and the whites at- 
tempted to concentrate forces there. This the rebels were able to 
do more rapidly but in the end much less completely than the 
whites. By the end of May the great majority of white fighting 
men, not only from the Matabeleland laagers but also from 
Mashonaland, had been brought successfully into Bulawayo, 
while the majority of the rebels in arms remained scattered 
throughout the province during the whole of the fighting. Never- 
theless, though white organization proved in the end predictably 
more effective in this respect, during the month of April the 
African high command showed an ability, remarkable under the 
circumstances, to concentrate the most effective fighting units on 
the rebel side, and as late as June they were still able to bring 
together in one force the picked men of a dozen different impis. 

1 Milton to £ my dear child’, 1 1 Sept. 1896, ML 1/1/2. 



These concentrations of rebel power were brought together in the 
vicinity of Bulawayo and the key engagements of the first phase 
of the rebellion were fought there. 

This concentration a few miles north-west of Bulawayo, on the 
far bank of the river Umgusa, was very much the work of the 
Mkwati-Nyamanda faction. Throughout April and May the impis 
led by Umlugulu and his faction took up their position much 
further from the town; they were, moreover, much more dispersed 
than the concentrated force of the north-eastern faction. On May 
ist, for instance, the Chief Native Commissioner reported that the 
total fighting strength of the rebels amounted to some 10,000 men, 
divided into five main impis. The largest of these was the force 
which based itself on the Umgusa, and which was commanded 
militarily by Mtini ( induna of the Ngnoba regiment, leader of the 
first attacks on whites in the Inyati area, and close associate of 
Mkwati), and spiritually by Siginyamatshe. Nyamanda, eldest 
son of Lobengula and the northern faction’s candidate for the 
kingship was also with this force; so was Mpotshwana, induna of 
the Nyamandhlovu regiment and the main leader of the rising in 
the area around Bulawayo itself. Many members of the Ndebele 
royal family were also present. As for the fighting members of this 
impressive force they were drawn from the regiments of the 
Inyati area— the Jingen regiment among whom Mkwati had lived 
under their induna, Nkomo, for example; the regiments of the 
Bulawayo area — the Elibeni whom Siginyamatshe had brought 
out for example; and some men at least from the area of the 
Matopos. In all the force amounted to some 4000 men. 

Umlugulu and Sikombo were out with an impi of some 2000 
men 25 miles south-east of Bulawayo, blocking the Tuli road; 
Babyaan and Dhliso, other members of the Umlugulu faction, 
were out with an impi some 800 strong on the Khami river, 14 
miles south of Bulawayo. The other impis, each 2000 strong, were 
in the Inyoka and Shangani districts, relatively remote from 
Bulawayo. It is hard to say whether there was a combined 
strategy jointly devised between the various rebel factions; prob- 
ably there was not. There was, however, plenty of contact between 
them during this period, and constant movement of people from 
one area to another. 1 

1 Report by C.N.G. Taylor, 1 May 1896, LO 5/6/1; report of events, 21 
Apr. 1896, A 10/12/2. 


In the later defensive stage of the rising from mid-June to Sep- 
tember 1896 it was the forces of Umlugulu, Sikombo, Dhliso, 
Babyaan, and the rest of that faction, by then concentrated in the 
Matopos, which played the key role. But in the earlier period of 
offensive against Bulawayo the north-eastern faction made all the 
running. The force which they had brought together on the 
Umgusa experienced the most concentrated fighting of the re- 
bellion; there were no less than five battles there in April, and 
when in early June the forces of the north-eastern faction returned 
for a final offensive throw it was to the Umgusa that they came. 
The banks of the little river, undramatic though they appear to 
a visitor, witnessed the decisive encounters of the Ndebele-Euro- 
pean struggle; it was there that the rebel attack was broken and 
there also that Ndebele determination showed to most advantage. 

When the fighting was over the Umgusa battlefield still bore 
silent witness to the intensity of the struggle. ‘All the ant-bear holes 
are filled with the corpses of niggers,’ wrote Lady Victoria Grey 
after a visit to the site in August; ‘they are only skeletons now. In 
several places we came across skeletons lying in the bush with the 
shield and assegai and sandals lying beside them.’ 1 

The only evidence we have about the intentions of the leaders 
of this force comes from testimony later given in the trial of 
Siginyamatshe. We have seen already how the Mwari messenger 
roused the men of the Elibeni kraal and brought them into the 
rising in March 1896. Thereafter, according to the testimony of 
the induna Umgalu, he led them ‘to the Umgusa and said they 
must look sharply out for the Mlimo. Accused was giving orders. 
He told them that the Mlimo had said that this impi was to watch 
the town of Bulawayo and kill anyone who came out of it. Accused 
told them that when the white men crossed the river their bullets 
would turn to water and the maxim could not fire any longer as 
there were no bullets left. He had a horn which he was blowing.’ 2 

We may reasonably give some stress to Siginymatshe’s orders. 
The evidence suggests that there was very close cooperation be- 
tween the Mwari officers and the military leaders of the north- 
eastern faction. Mtini, commander of the Umgusa force, regularly 
reported back to Mkwati, who in turn received specifically 
military advice from Mtini himself and from Mpotshwana. 

1 Diary of Lady Victoria Grey, 30 Aug. 1896, GR 4/2/1. 

2 Evidence of Umgalu, Rhodesia, Vol. 2, 9 July 1897. 



Siginyamatshe, Mwari representative on the battlefield, was very 
well known to Mtini, in whose regimental kraal he had lived before 
becoming prominent in the cult. We may perhaps assume that 
military policy was the result of agreement between the two 
groups of leaders. If we do take Siginyamatshe’s orders to the 
Elibeni regiment as a guide it would seem that the Umgusa posi- 
tion was chosen as a place near enough to Bulawayo to allow the 
rebels to watch the town closely and to take decisive action at any 
sign of evacuation, while at the same time offering good defensive 
potentialities should the white garrison attempt an attack. In 
1893 the two great battles between the Ndebele regiments and 
the white columns both took place on the banks of rivers, and the 
continued promises of the Mwari priesthood that the whites would 
not be able to force the crossing of the Umgusa would seem to 
demonstrate the significance paid to this in rebel military planning. 
As a matter of fact, the position did prove a strong one. In the 
encounters of April 16th, April 19th, April 20th and April 22nd, 
on all of which days the Umgusa force was attacked by white 
patrols of varying strength, the Ndebele held their ground despite 
the presence of maxim and hotchkiss guns. 

Siginyamatshe’s horn sounded throughout these early engage- 
ments. Shemheli of the Elibeni kraal later ‘remembered him at 
the Umgusa fight, where he had a horn and an assegai; the former 
he was blowing. . . . When everyone heard it they said, “That is 
Siginyamatshe’s horn”. ’ Clearly his spiritual prestige and that of 
Mkwati was heavily committed to the Umgusa strategy; equally 
clearly the discipline and faith in their own strength which the 
strategy called for from the Ndebele fighting men could hardly 
have been achieved without the addition of the charismatic Mwari 
leadership to the authority of the regimental indunas and the mem- 
bers of the Ndebele royal family. But on April 25th the wisdom of 
the Umgusa strategy, the probable success of the rising, and the 
prestige of the Mwari leadership were all called into doubt. 1 

On that day Captain MacFarlane with a force of 1 15 mounted 
settlers, 70 African friendlies from the Cape, 100 local friendlies, 
one hotchkiss and one maxim, succeeded in pressing home an 
attack on the Umgusa position. The fighting was fierce and at one 
moment there was a possibility that the white patrol would be 
overrun, but in the end the rebels were forced to retreat with 
1 Evidence of Shemheli and Lukaso, Rhodesia , Vol. 2, 9 July 1897. 


heavy losses. ‘The natives had a good loss on Saturday last,’ wrote 
Grey. ‘Best authorities think they will attack us no more but re- 
main on the defensive and wait to be attacked. Our fear is that 
they may on rumours of reinforcements coming retire further into 
the bush where it will be difficult and dangerous to follow them. 
This will be a great calamity as all are agreed that if we do not 
punish the Matabele now with sufficient severity the country will 
be liable to annual raids and consequently made unsafe for the 
outlying whites.’ 1 

It was a moment in which decisive action on the white side 
might have brought the rising to a rapid end. Umlugulu and his 
allies had so far shown no very offensive spirit; and the defeat of 
April 25th had broken up and disheartened the Umgusa force. 
Intelligence reports described how many of its members had 
returned to the Matopos hills and how the remainder, allegedly 
disillusioned with the promises of the Mwari officers, was waiting 
for some explanation of the defeat to be sent from Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo. But paradoxically the victory revealed the essential 
weakness of the white position. Grey might boast that Bulawayo 
was now as ‘safe as London’ and publicly regret that uncalled for 
panic had led to the invitation to Imperial troops, but the Com- 
pany and settler forces were quite incapable of ‘punishing the 
Matabele now with sufficient severity’. They could defend the 
laagers and defeat Ndebele impis in pitched battles, though both 
with difficulty, but they could not pursue the African forces 
rapidly and vigorously or clear the country outside the towns. 

Years later a Rhodesian Staff Officer analysed the problems 
which faced the whites. ‘In the 1893 Matabele War’, he wrote, 
‘the objective was the capture of Bulawayo and of Lobengula, and 
the advance on the former compelled the latter to assemble his 
regiments and give battle at the Shangani and Bembesi rivers. 
When there is no great king to overthrow the selection of an 
objective is not so easy. ... In the 1896 rebellion there was no 
king or country to overthrow so the object then was the destruc- 
tion of kraals and the capture of supplies and cattle, and then to 
hunt the rebels relentlessly into their strongholds and caves.’ The 
requirements for successfully undertaking such a course of action 
he defined as follows. ‘The question of the seizure of the initiative 
does not exist in this class of warfare,’ he wrote with a lofty 
1 Grey to Lady Grey, 2 May 1896, GR 1/1/1. 


X 79 

disregard for the shock and fear of the settlers in 1896. ‘Under 
ordinary circumstances, the native may make the first move but 
the massacre of a few residents does not constitute the seizure of 
the initiative in the military sense. The campaign only commences 
when troops are set in motion to put the disturbance down by 
force. The native will by then have retired to his strongholds from 
whence he will have to be ejected and punished. The initiative 
will then rest with the attacking forces. Promptitude in opening 
hostilities is essential, but the great point to aim at is not delay in 
getting into motion so much as that when once in motion there 
shall be no check. The initiative must be maintained. Natives are 
impressionable and are greatly influenced by a resolute bearing 
and a determined course of action. Delays must not occur; they 
cause an enemy to pluck up courage; every pause is interpreted as 
a sign of weakness and every halt gives new life. That being so the 
campaign should not be started till there are sufficient troops on 
the spot to prosecute the work with vigour, and sufficient supplies 
and transport available to maintain them in the field.’ 1 

Grey certainly wanted to follow up MacFarlane’s victory 
with promptitude but he had neither sufficient troops to prosecute 
the work with vigour nor sufficient supplies to maintain them. In 
the very difficult situation created by the rinderpest epidemic 
organization of supply was an especial weakness of the settler 
forces; it was not until Carrington arrived that a really effective 
supply system was built up. Finally, both the Colonial Secretary 
and the High Commissioner were urging caution upon the Com- 
pany administration. They had had too many lessons in Company 
rashness and now demanded that no major offensive should be 
undertaken until Carrington had arrived to assume command. As 
a result the month of May was a month of consolidation on both 
the white and the African side. During the month there was only 
one significant engagement when a patrol ran into the old Umgusa 
force, or the bulk of it, at Thabas Induna and there was a brisk 

On the other hand the concentration of the white forces was 
successfully achieved. By the end of May Grey’s strength had been 
much increased by the arrival of Plumer and his 500 men, of the 
men from the Gwelo laager, Rhodes among them, and of the 
Salisbury column. On June 3rd Carrington arrived and at once 
1 Study of the lessons of 1896, George Parsons, PA 1/1/3. 


began to plan a system of adequately supported and supplied 

Meanwhile the north-eastern rebel faction, of whose intentions 
the whites remained ignorant, had also consolidated. After the 
Umgusa defeat Grey had confidently informed the Company 
office in Cape Town that ‘the back of the rebellion is already 
broken. The defeat of April 25th having caused rebels round 
Bulawayo to realize the worthlessness of the Mlimo’s pretensions 
and the hopelessness of the struggle against us. The rebels will 
continue fighting but will act on the defensive and wait to be 
attacked, retiring into the hills and thick bush. 5 These were cer- 
tainly not the intentions of Mkwati and Mtini, however, who were 
determined that the offensive should be resumed. And the delay 
in following up the Umgusa defeat meant that the confidence of 
their followers had been very largely restored. 

We are fortunate in having a statement made in August 1896 
by a prisoner, one Malima, who had acted as a messenger and 
go-between for Mkwati with the force on the Umgusa. It deserves 
extensive quotation. According to Malima, Siginyamatshe himself 
had gone to Taba Zi Ka Mambo to report back to Mkwati after 
the defeat of April 25th. It was then evidently decided that the 
force should be kept together and reinforced. After the encounter 
at Thabas Induna in May, the leading indunas sent Malima, to- 
gether with two indunas of the Elibeni kraal, to report to Mkwati 
and to seek the advice of Mwari. ‘When I got to Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo 5 , Malima testified, ‘I saw the people of the Mlimo, to wit, 
Umkwati of the Zingeni, Zenkele, Undabambi and others who 
I do not know. The names of those I have mentioned are the prin- 
cipal men of the Mlimo. We came to the approach of the cave 
which was curtained with grass. ... I told the Mlimo the mes- 
sage I had been given by the indunas and told him the whites had 
gone on towards the Shangani. The Mlimo who, invisible to me, 
spoke from the cave told me to return to the impi and tell them 
to follow the white man as far as the Shangani river and on the 
Shangani river being crossed by the white men the impi was to 
return. We went with the impi and followed the white man as far 
as the stony ridges of the Enxa district. There a fight took place 
and then the white men re-directed their course towards Bula- 
wayo. We . . . were then sent by the indunas to the Mlimo to 
whom we reported the course taken by the forces of the white men. 


As before the Mlimo told me to return and to tell them to go 
again to the Umgusa. They did so.’ 1 

Mkwati’s determination that the attack on the whites should 
be kept up emerges clearly from this account. Other evidence sug- 
gests that he and Siginyamatslie were working in May 1896 to 
pull a new striking force together much as they had worked in 
February and March to bring about the rising. Meanwhile, as we 
have seen, the whites in Bulawayo totally discounted the possi- 
bility of another rebel offensive. ‘Our difficulty now’, cabled 
Rhodes, ‘is that the natives have disappeared.’ On June 4th and 
on June 5th two large patrols set out from Bulawayo to try to 
establish contact with rebel impis; on June 6th a small patrol on a 
routine journey north of Bulawayo suddenly ran into a large rebel 
force in the least expected place — the old battlefield of the 
Umgusa. 2 

The engagement which rapidly developed was in many ways 
the decisive test of strength of 1896. On the white side striking 
power and efficiency had been greatly increased; on the African 
side the force on the Umgusa represented the pick of the rebel 
fighting men. ‘The rebel forces consisted of carefully selected, 
picked men from eight different impis, who had been chosen to 
take part in this venture, the success of which had been guaran- 
teed by the Mlimo.’ But it was overwhelmingly defeated. ‘The 
rebels probably lost more heavily on this occasion than at any 
other action during the campaign. . . . After this engagement the 
rebels could never be persuaded to fight until they were by 
pressure compelled to do so.’ 3 

‘The other day a strong force suddenly appeared within 6 miles 
of Bulawayo’, Grey wrote to his son on June 15th, ‘on the other 
side of a little stream called the Umgusa; they were told by their 
prophet (Mlimo) that the white man’s horses would not be able 
to cross the river, but would fall down dead if they attempted to 
cross to the other side. We thoroughly cured them of that little 
superstition and I only wish the other impis — of which there are 
several— would be similarly advised by their spiritual guides and 
give us an opportunity of knocking them out.’ 4 

1 Malima’s statement, 1 Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/2. 

2 Rhodes to Secretary, Cape Town, 22 May 1896, LO 5/2/48. 

3 Report on the Native Disturbances in Rhodesia, i 8 g 6 -j, 1898. 

4 Grey to his son, 15 June 1896, GR 1/1/1. 



The ‘spiritual guides’, however, now accepted the inevitability 
of a withdrawal. Siginyamatshe, together with Mpotshwana, 
Mtini, the men of the Inyati area and the men of the kraals 
round Bulawayo, withdrew to Mkwati’s stronghold of Taba Zi 
Ka Mambo. Umlugulu and his faction withdrew into the Mato- 
pos. Contact was maintained between the two areas but from 
June 1896 there were effectively two distinct centres of Ndebele 
resistance, whose attitudes grew wider and wider apart. 

By mid-June 1896, then, a new stage of the rebellion was 
beginning which posed serious problems for both sides. The 
rebels had failed to drive out the white man or to sustain an 
offensive; they now faced the prospect of a long defensive struggle 
with little prospect of final victory. On the other hand the whites 
were at last, now that all their strength had been mobilized, and 
after the battle of June 6th, face to face with the problem of 
storming the Ndebele strongholds. It was not a prospect to which 
anyone looked forward with pleasure or confidence. Both Taba 
Zi Ka Mambo and the Matopos were extremely difficult country 
of granite hills, honeycombed with caves and crevices. ‘A ghastly 
country for fighting,’ wrote Jarvis, whose earlier zeal for stand-up 
fights with the rebels was sobered by the prospect of the Matopos. 
‘Huge granite kopjes full of caves (like the other place, Taba sa 
Mambo, but of course more of them). Many of the coves who 
know tell me that it is just about the most difficult country in the 
world— worse than Afghanistan or Chitral. I should say that it 
would not be easy to find a more beastly place to fight in and these 
niggers are so nippy.’ 1 

Both sides, then, needed some dramatic moral reinforcement 
in June 1896. Both were given it. On the rebel side there was the 
great boost of the outbreak of the rising in Mashonaland, which 
is described in the next chapter. And on the side of the whites 
there was the sensational claim that the chief leader of the re- 
bellion, the man upon whom its continuance chiefly depended, 
had been identified, tracked down and shot. The story of this 
‘shooting of the Mlimo’ is a strange episode in the confrontation 
of the African religious authorities and the white administration 
which is one of our dominant themes. 

As the whites faced up to the prospect of the Matopos the 
desire to identify a central rebel leadership which might provide 
1 Jarvis to his mother, July 1896, JA 4/1 / 1 . 



the kind of target for action that had existed in the 1893 war 
naturally grew stronger. The evidence that was beginning to come 
in, pieced together by Baden-Powell’s intelligence unit from the 
statements of prisoners and spies, seemed to point to the Mwari 
or Mlimo cult as the mainspring of the rising. The full story of its 
involvement was at the time known to no one; the character of the 
cult was also misunderstood. As a result white attention began to 
focus upon ‘the Mlimo’ himself, by which was understood a man, 
claiming to be a god, who exercised dictatorial control over the 
rebels and was the focus of the rising. It began to be argued that 
if ‘the Mlimo’ could be identified and killed the rising would col- 
lapse — the analogy most often drawn was between the Mlimo and 
the Mahdi. In this atmosphere old hands racked their memories 
for scraps of information which might lead to ‘the Mlimo’. 
Among them was the Native Commissioner of Mangwe, Arm- 
strong, who recalled that in 1894 a police patrol had discovered 
a Mwari cult centre and dispersed its officers. 

In the last week of June 1896 the news spread that Armstrong 
and the American Scout, Burnham, had followed up this clue; 
had found ‘the Mlimo’ and shot him dead; that their report had 
been accepted by Lord Grey, who was proposing to reward the 
heroic participants in the deed. The story as Grey accepted it, a 
story which became a classic tale of Imperial daring-do, cannot 
be better told than it was by its chief actor, Burnham. 

‘One day in June’, so it begins, ‘a young man came through the 
lines and knocked on the door of the small brick house. . . . He 
asked for the Chief of Scouts as he had something to tell me. On 
seeing my wife inside he said shortly, “I prefer not to talk before 
women”. . . . Then he told me his name was Armstrong and that 
he was Native Commissioner stationed at Mangwe, in the pass 
through the Matoppo mountains. He said that a certain Zulu 
who had a Matabele wife had betrayed to him the location of the 
Mlimo’s cave in the Matoppos. . . . Armstrong had come to pro- 
pose to me that we go together, find this cave, kill the Mlimo and 
put an end to the source of all our troubles with the natives.’ 

Burnham welcomed the suggestion with alacrity, so the tale 
continues, and the two men took the project to Grey and Carring- 
ton and secured their consent to the risky adventure. They 
scouted for the cave and at length found it; but noticing the huts 
built at the base of the hill in which it was set and ‘the ceremonial 


dancing floor . . . wide enough to accommodate a thousand 
natives at one time’, they despaired of reaching the cave unseen. 
That night, however, Armstrong discovered from the Zulu — 
‘Armstrong could extract more information from a native than 
any man I ever knew’ — information which made it essential that 
they should reach the cave on the following day. The Zulu told 
them that an Ndebele regiment was coming to be ‘doctored’ and 
that its indunas were going to the cave to witness a special cere- 
mony to be conducted by ‘the Mlimo’ himself and to receive in- 
structions. Armstrong and Burnham rose at dawn on June 23rd, 
then, and managed to reach the cave without being seen. They 
concealed themselves within it and after a while saw a number 
of men coming up the path towards it. ‘I saw with surprise’, 
Burnham tells us, ‘that a man striding in advance of the others 
was not a Matabele at all, but a pure Makalaka, one of the 
ancient people of the country. He separated from the Ring Kops 
[indunas] and kept on alone, moving higher and higher up the 
path to the cave; pausing at certain points along his ascent to 
make cabbalistic signs and utter prayers, as if he were a high 
priest preparing to meet the god supposed to dwell inside the cave 
and for whom the great Mlimo acted as a mouthpiece.’ As the 
man reached and entered the cave they became convinced that 
he was the ‘great Mlimo’; taking in his ‘forceful, hard, cruel’ face 
and simple clothing, the two men prepared for action. 

‘Here was the author of all our woes. Because of him my little 
daughter was dead and the bones of hundreds of brave men and 
good women were scattered on the veld by hyenas. Carrington’s 
command, “Capture him if you can; kill him if you must”, rang 
in my ears. The moment had come for action; but after all, it was 
young Armstrong’s skill that had located our arch enemy, and I 
knew Armstrong never intended to ride back to Bulawayo until 
the Mlimo was dead. I whispered “Armstrong, this is your work. 
When he enters the cave you kill him.” “No,” he replied, “you 
do it.” So, as the Mlimo came in, I made a slight sound and gave 
him his last chance to turn the white man’s bullet to water. I put 
the bullet under his heart.’ 

The two men then ran from the cave to the spot where their 
horses were hidden. The indunas , terrified by the unexpected 
reverberation of the shot from the cave, took to their heels, and 
Burnham and Armstrong were able to reach their horses un- 



molested. But as they galloped off, having first fired the ceremonial 
huts at the base of the hill, the Ndebele regiment came up with 
them. ‘For two hours we were hotly pursued and had a long hard 
ride and a running fight over hard ground until we were nearly 
exhausted, but the savages abandoned the chase after we had 
crossed the Shashani river.’ 

Thus Burnham recollected his great exploit in tranquillity some 
forty years later in his book, Scouting on Two Continents. The story 
had lost none of its dramatic quality in the intervening years; but 
it had gained little either. In essence it was still the story told by 
Burnham and Armstrong in their report to Grey on June 26th 
1896 and taken up with such delight by the British press at that 
time. 1 

After the shooting the two men took steps to substantiate their 
claim that the dead man was indeed ‘the Mlimo’. They picked up 
and sent into Bulawayo as prisoners the family and assistants of 
the dead chief priest. (These men were still in prison in September 
when Grey’s daughter, Lady Victoria, wrote to her sister that she 
had visited Bulawayo Jail to see ‘a few rebel priests and men who 
call themselves Mlimos there. They have things like handcuffs 
round their ankles attached to one another by a light chain about 
fifteen inches long so they could not possibly walk fast and 
escape.’) They obtained from the indunas of the Mangwe area 
affidavits that the dead man, Jobani or Habangana, had been the 
High Priest of Mwari and the chief instigator of the rebellion. 
They recruited the support of old Matabeleland hands, like 
Alfred Taylor who affirmed that the Mangwe Africans described 
Jobani as ‘the head of the Mlimos who told the kaffirs that they 
were to fight with the white men and that our bullets would turn 
to water’. Burnham himself was in no doubt about the matter. ‘I 
heard the ceremonies with my own ears’, he wrote on June 26th, 
‘and saw the preparation for the indaba myself. I am convinced 
that all the information given was absolutely correct and that this 
was the principal Mlimo of the Nation.’ 2 

Presented with these assurances the authorities accepted 
Burnham’s claim. ‘Mlimo is dead,’ Grey told Vintcent jubilantly 

1 F. R. Burnham, Scouting on Two Continents, Los Angeles, 1934; report by 
Burnham and Armstrong, 26 June 1896, LO 5/6/1, p. 296. 

2 Taylor to Burnham, 27 June 1896, LO 5/6/2; Bulawayo Sketch, 4 July 
1896; Victoria Grey to Evelyn Grey, 1 Sept. 1896, GR 1/1/1. 


over the telephone to Salisbury on June 25th. Next month Grey’s 
secretary wrote to the London Board of the Company enclosing 
full reports of ‘a very brave act on the part of Native Commissioner 
Armstrong and Mr Burnham . . . who at the risk of their own 
lives killed the principal Mlimo in his cave in the Matoppos, 
which is the head centre of the witch-craft and superstition which 
has had such a fatal influence upon the Natives of Matabeleland 
in their rising against the Government.’ 1 

Expectations of the devastating effect that the shooting would 
have on rebel morale were widely expressed. ‘Another wire’, 
wrote the Anglican missionary, Douglas Pelly, ‘gives the report 
(which we much hope is true) of the shooting of the Mlimo, the 
great witch-doctor of the Matabele. If he really is dead the back- 
bone of the Matabele rising will soon be broken.’ And that is 
precisely what Burnham later claimed; Armstrong and he had 
done ‘Rhodesia stupendous service by exploding the myth of the 
cave and destroying the Mlimo’s power’. 2 

What, then, had really happened? Had Armstrong and Burn- 
ham penetrated to Njelele or Matonjeni and killed the chief cult 
officer at one of these undoubted centres of rebel activity? Had 
they even stumbled upon Mkwati himself paying a visit to 
Njelele to coordinate action after the Umgusa defeat? Many 
people pointed out at the time that it was strictly speaking im- 
possible to shoot the Mlimo, and for this reason challenged 
Burnham’s claim to have delivered a severe blow to the rebellion. 
The objection was, of course, a perfectly valid one; but at the 
same time there is no doubt that the shooting of Mkwati, say, 
under the dramatic circumstances described by Burnham would 
have had a very great effect on rebel morale. Fortunately we can 
reconstruct what really happened because doubts of Burnham’s 
story rose so persistently among contemporaries that a confidential 
inquiry was held by government. And although the report of that 
inquiry is lost there is plenty of evidence to suggest what was in it. 

Where, first of all, was the cave? It is clear even from the story 
told by Armstrong and Burnham themselves that the cave to 
which they penetrated was certainly not either Njelele or Maton- 
jeni; indeed that it was not in the Matopos at all. According to 

1 Grey to Vintcent, notes of a telephone conversation, 25 June 1896, LO 
5/6/1; Inskipp to London Board, 24 July 1896, LO 5/6/2. 

2 Pelly diary, entry for 24 June 1896, PE 3/ 1 /2. 


l8 7 

Marshall Hole who went through all the evidence it was in fact 
situated very near Mangwe, ‘near Banko’s kraal, close to the 
Shashi river and within about 30 miles of the Matopo Hills’. This 
in itself gave rise to some justified scepticism at the time. ‘I never 
could understand’, wrote Acting High Commissioner Good- 
enough on July 8th, ‘how the big Mlimo could have been found 
so near Mangwe as Burnham with his shot located him.’ 1 

As doubts began to rise about Burnham and Armstrong’s story 
it was often alleged that the two men had not shot a Mwari 
official at all, but had merely ridden out of the Mangwe laager, 
picked on the first old African to hand and shot him. This was not 
true. They did indeed shoot a high priest of Mwari but it was the 
high priest of the south-western shrine. This emerges clearly from 
Baden-Powell’s sympathetic account which nevertheless differs 
significantly from Burnham’s in many ways; and it is supported 
by oral evidence. In 1961 the American scholar R. Werbner was 
working among the Kalanga of the Plum Tree area; he was told 
by them that their high priest had been shot at Mangwe in 1896 
by a fellow American. The name of the dead man’s successor in 
the south-west, moreover, is given in Kalanga tradition as 
Njenjema, and a man of this name was amongst the prisoners held 
in Bulawayo jail as associates of the high priest. There can be little 
doubt that the man killed and called in official documents Jobani 
or Tshobani was the high priest of Mwari for the south-west, 
remembered by the Kalanga today under the name Habangana. 2 

Given then, that the shooting took place many miles from the 
Matopos and in a ‘friendly’ or at least neutral area, what are we 
to make of the story of the running fight with the Ndebele regi- 
ment? There seems no doubt that the whole tale was invented 
by Burnham and assented to by Armstrong. This was certainly the 
conclusion reached by the official commissioner of inquiry. A 
contemporary diarist tells us of that commissioner’s summary of 
his findings — ‘the whole thing was a “fake” and a lie of self- 
glorification of young Armstrong and Burnham. The Mlimo was 
an old native working in a kaffir garden.’ Marshall Hole, who had 

1 Goodenough to Carrington, 8 July 1896, BA2/1/1; Burnham and Arm- 
strong’s report, 26 June 1896, LO 5/6/1. 

2 Baden Powell, The Matabele Campaign, 1896; information supplied by Mr 
R. Werbner; interview between the author and Mr Masola Kumile, 6 Sept. 

1 88 


read the now lost report and the evidence upon which it was 
based, has left a full account of the affair. Armstrong, he tells us, 
heard ‘that there was a certain cave where the Makalanga used 
to offer up sacrifice to the ancestral spirit known as the Mlimo. 
He concocted a story in connection with the cave, and the rites 
that were carried on there, which completely deceived Earl Grey 
and General Sir Frederick Carrington. He made it appear that he 
knew of the whereabouts of the Mlimo himself, who had, he said, 
influenced the Matabele to rise in rebellion. . . . The two men 
proceeded forthwith to Mangwe and set out for the cave in com- 
pany with a native confederate called Kutji. On arriving at the 
cave Kutji pointed out a native named Dshobani in the fields. 
Armstrong sent for him and ordered him to walk towards the 
caves. When at the mouth of the cave he was deliberately shot 
from behind. The party then returned to Mangwe where Arm- 
strong called the principal natives of the district; informed them 
that he had “killed the Mlimo” and told them to spread the news 
through the country.’ Years later Armstrong himself confided to 
a close friend that ‘neither going nor returning did they contact 
any male natives and that the statements that they were chased 
by natives, etc., were absolutely untrue’. 1 

The famous late Victorian adventure story begins to look a 
little shabby; gone are the incantations and the firing of the huts 
and the hard fight and ride; what was left, in the opinion of some 
contemporaries, was ‘a cold-blooded murder of an innocent and 
unresisting old Negro’. But the final irony of this odd story re- 
mains to be told. It may be remembered that the south-western 
shrine officials had refused to come into the rebellion in March 
1896; by shooting the head priest of the shrine and arresting the 
other cult officers there Armstrong and Burnham were removing 
the one influential centre which had been opposed to the rising. 
Indeed, the indications are that the Mangwe shrine saw itself as 
the repository of the true and original Mwari tradition, now 
being revolutionized and distorted by Mkwati and his allies. In 
April 1896, for instance, Cullen Reed, a missionary stationed 
among the Kalanga, wrote to the Acting Administrator to say 
that the Kalanga headmen around Mangwe had warned him of 
the approach of an Ndebele impi sent to kill him. ‘Unless com- 

1 Bertodano diary, entry for 13 Sept. 1896, BE 3/2; Notes by Marshall Hole, 
HO 1/4/6. 



pelled by fear of the Matabele,’ he wrote, ‘I have very little doubt 
that the Makalanga in the west will remain perfectly quiet. In 
connection with the influence of the Mlimo in this struggle I may 
say that the eldest son of the man representing the Mlimo in the 
west was the first to warn me, on behalf of his father, of my 
danger.’ ‘The Makalanga, whose tutelary deity and special pro- 
perty this Mlimo is,’ wrote Native Commissioner Thomas in 
October 1896, ‘did not as a tribe join in the rebellion.’ 1 

The fact of Kalanga neutrality was so well known that even 
Burnham was obliged to make some reference to it in his second 
report to Grey on July 8th. ‘The family of the Mlimo claim to be 
friendly to the whites and it is doubtless true that they have never 
killed a white man in this district. They also claim to have brought 
to Mangwe news of the movements of the hostiles and various in- 
formation — a little grain, a few goats, and many promises of 
loyalty. This, I believe, is true. I went into the district believing 
these Kaffirs to be loyal, knowing they took no visible part in the 
first war.’ Burnham went on, naturally enough, to claim that this 
loyalty was feigned. ‘I know that these Friendlies mix up and are 
in daily contact with the hostiles. ... I am quite sure every move 
of the whites is constantly conveyed to the hostiles.’ But this was a 
far cry from the claims of his first report and his later book. 2 

This white master-stroke, then, was far from being a serious 
blow to the rebels. The rebels in the Matopos and the north-east 
repudiated the influence of the Mangwe cult centre; when 
Jobani’s son was released from prison and used as an emissary to 
the rebels in August 1896 it became obvious that he enjoyed no 
special prestige among them at all. ‘It was ascertained’, so Hole 
tells us, ‘that the so-called Mlimo — the man that is who was 
generally known by that name — was still at large, being in fact 
the native . . . Mgwati. The natives denied all knowledge of 
Dshobani.’ 3 

The only effect of the shooting on the rising was that it nearly 
brought the south-western Kalanga in after all. The decision of 
their cult officers to stay out of the rebellion had been rewarded 
with death for the chief priest and imprisonment in chains for the 

1 The St James Gazette, July 1897; Cullen Reed to Duncan, 4 Apr. 1896, 
A 10/1/1; Report on the Native Disturbances in Rhodesia, i8g6~y, Schedule H. 

2 Burnham to Grey, 8 July 1896, LO 5/6/2. 

3 Thomas to Grey, 18 Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/3; Notes by Hole, HO 1 /4/6. 



remainder; no wonder there was resentment and discontent. In 
July 1896 there were serious alarms in the Tati Concession and in 
Bechuanaland that the Kalanga would rise and at last block the 
road to Bulawayo. T have outside information,’ wrote the Finan- 
cial Manager, Tati, on July 2nd, ‘that Makalakas are greatly 
disturbed by killing of their Mlimo’; he thought that a rising was 
a serious possibility. In the end the agitation subsided but it was 
an ironic consequence of an attempt to break the back of the 
rising by shooting ‘the great Mlimo’. 1 

Mkwati’s counter-stroke, on the other hand, was very much 
more effective. The Shona rising, in the planning of which he was 
deeply involved, was at once a dreadful blow to the hard pressed 
settler community and an indication that the Mwari network still 
had much more life in it than could be extinguished by Burnham’s 

1 Financial Manager, Tati, to Imperial Secretary, Cape Town, 2 July 1896; 
Assistant Commissioner, Palapye, to Acting High Commissioner, Cape Town, 
6 July 1896, Colonial Office, Confidential Prints, Southern Africa, No. 520, 
pp. 294-7. The subsequent fate of the participants in this drama was as 
follows. The family of Jobani were released on 17 Oct. 1896 by Grey’s order; 
one of them, Ntshentshema or Njenjema, became Mwari priest in his turn, 
operating at the Hongwe Habalume cave in the south west. Burnham went 
on to gain further publicity by his exploits in the Boer War, becoming a 
Major and winning the D.S.O. Armstrong’s career, on the other hand, was 
ruined by the episode and he eventually resigned from the administrative 


The Outbreak and Organization of 
the Rebellion in Mashonaland 

The outbreak of the Shona rising in the third week of June 
1896 is one of the great dramas of white Rhodesian history. Its 
total unexpectedness; its appalling impact upon a community 
most of whose fighting men were away in Matabeleland; the terror 
and courage of the isolated groups of settlers; all this gives a 
quality of true excitement and even grandeur to the many 
reminiscences which survive. 

We may perhaps appropriately see the outbreak of the rising 
through the eyes of Native Commissioner ‘Wiri’ Edwards, whom 
we have met several times before in this book — as the young 
adventurer illicitly buying cattle in the Matabeland of 1894; as 
‘Nyandoro’s white man’ with his store in chief Kunzwi’s district; 
as the rough and ready administrator of the Mrewa area under 
Brabant’s regime — and whose account sets it in a wider perspective 
than most. 

At the beginning of 1896 things were going on in the Mrewa 
district much the same as they had done since Edwards took over 
as Native Commissioner there. Perhaps there were a few more 
skirmishes with headmen and chiefs refusing tax or resenting the 
operations of ‘justice’, but Edwards wrote them off as ‘old die- 
hards who objected to interference with some of their time- 
honoured practices’. He did not believe that the young men or 
the mass of the people were hostile; ‘on the whole’, he found, ‘the 
Mashona natives gave very little cause for worry in the work of 
the district’. Yet, as it transpired later, it was in this very period 
of apparent calm that preparations for revolt were being made, 
especially by the young men, with paramount chief Mangwende’s 
son, Mchemwa, at their head. Looking back ruefully Edwards 
admitted that he had understood very little about his Shona 
charges — their history, their language, their attachment to their 
religious authorities. ‘We had under-rated the Mashona native’, 


he wrote, ‘They were certainly not a warrior race like the Zulu but 
they were steeped in superstition, and were cunning and clever, 
far more so than their late over-lords, the Matabele. . . . We were 
sitting on a smouldering fire and didn’t know it.’ 

At the time, however, Edward’s confidence was universally 
shared. Soon after the outbreak of the rising in Matabeleland 
Rhodes came through from the coast and stopped at Maren- 
dellas for a talk with Edwards; the two men sat on the wall 
outside the Marendellas hotel ‘and discussed the natives’. Rhodes 
‘was very worried about the position in Matabeleland, but like 
many more of us he did not suspect that the Mashona would follow 
the lead given by the Matabele’. Even when in early June 
Edwards heard that his fellow Native Commissioner, Ruping, 
was having serious difficulty with the Budja people of Mtoko, 
to the extreme north-east of Native Department territory, he 
did not attribute any general significance to it. ‘I hadn’t the 
faintest idea that within a week the country would be in a blaze 
of rebellion.’ 

There were, he realized later, some signs of strangeness in the 
last days before the rising. ‘Warnings we did get but we did not 
understand them. There was talk amongst the people in my camp 
about a little bird from Mwari arriving. They themselves did not 
know what this meant; it was just talk from the kraals. On Monday 
morning, the 15th, a pair of native sandals were found at my door 
but who put them there no one knew. Some well-wisher, but we 
did not read the meaning they were intended to convey.’ 

Then on June 17th Edwards received a letter from the Chief 
Native Commissioner, Taberer. Paramount chief Makoni of 
Maungwe to the south-east of Mrewa was playing up and the 
Chief Native Commissioner proposed to visit him to nip any 
trouble in the bud; he wanted Edwards and four or five of his men 
as reinforcements. This meant that both to the north-east and the 
south-east of Edwards’ area there was discontent, but when he 
left Marendellas for Headlands, where Taberer was based, every- 
thing was quiet. At Headlands on June 19th, however, the two 
men received appalling news over the wire: a rising had broken 
out in the Hartley area and was rapidly spreading through Western 
Mashonaland. The trouble in Mtoko and Makoni’s recalcitrance 
at once began to fall into a more sinister perspective. That same 
night, back in Marendellas, Edwards’ men in camp saw ‘fires on 


the tops of mountains in different parts of the district’. Mcheinwa 
and the other rebel leaders were calling out their men. 

On June 20th the rebels of paramount chief Mangwende’s 
people, under Mchemwa’s leadership, attacked Edwards’ camp 
near Marendellas, looted it, and surrounded the store where most 
of the local whites had taken refuge. Edwards, meanwhile, know- 
ing nothing of this, had volunteered to ride back along the road 
from Headlands in order to secure the ammunition stores in 
Marendellas. As he rode towards the besieged store so he saw the 
signal fires moving towards him, springing up on the hilltops to 
the north and south of the road; ‘they were the sign that had been 
arranged for the killing of the whites’. Within days of the rising 
in Western Mashonaland the whole of Central Mashonaland was 
also coming out in arms. 

Edwards managed to join the rest of the whites in the store by 
crawling through the bush at the back of it. ‘We were surrounded 
by a horde of savages out for our blood. They kept shouting out 
what they would do with us when daylight came. It was the first 
time I heard the rebellion war-cry “Murenga We”.’ Next day 
they saw that the road to Salisbury was completely blocked by the 
rebels; they managed, however, to make a break in their wagons 
in the other direction and to reach Taberer’s group at Headlands. 
That night Headlands was attacked also, by a combined force of 
Mangwende and Makoni rebels. On June 22nd the Headlands 
post was also abandoned and the whites set out for Umtali. They 
reached there just as the false news of the shooting of the Mlimo 
was being broadcast; the rest of the news did little to cheer them. 
The whole vital stretch of the road between Salisbury and 
Umtali, upon which Salisbury had been dependent for supplies 
since the outbreak of the rebellion in Matabeleland, was now in 
rebel hands; so also was the greater part of the Mashonaland 
stretch of the road between Salisbury and Bulawayo. The far 
north was not in revolt; nor the south and south-east; otherwise 
virtually the whole of Mashonaland was up. Once again outlying 
settlers had suffered frightful casualties; an administration had 
collapsed; native commissioners and other officials had been 
killed. 1 

To Grey in Bulawayo the Shona rising came as a shattering 
blow. On June 15th he had been writing cheerfully to his son, 
1 Reminiscences of ‘Wiri’ Edwards, ED 6/1 /i. 


describing the last Umgusa fight and the patrols that were now 
being sent out in all directions; ‘until we catch them and thor- 
oughly convince them that this country is to be the country of 
the white, and not the black, man we must go on hammering and 
hunting them’. On July 3rd he wrote despondently: ‘We were just 
getting abreast of our Matabeleland troubles when this buffet 
came from Mashonaland. It is most provoking; it throws every- 
thing back and will cost the Company more money than it is 
pleasant to spend not to speak of the many poor fellows that have 
been killed.’ ‘It was as you can imagine a profound disappoint- 
ment’, he wrote to his wife, ‘this Mashonaland rising. We were 
nearing the end here and I was looking forward so much to meet- 
ing you ... at Salisbury. No one who knew the Mashonas ever 
expected them to rise and even if they did they thought that 
50 men would be able to march through the country and put 
things down.’ Yet here were the Shona fighting, so the white 
patrols reported, as fiercely as the Ndebele themselves, and 
Salisbury cut off from the sea until an Imperial column could be 
landed at Beira to clear the road. 1 

The outbreak of the Shona rising was, indeed, one of the great 
dramas of black Rhodesian history as well as of white. White 
astonishment at it was not unreasonable; its achievement was 
only possible through a successful solution being found to the 
problem of Shona disunity, and such a solution appeared very 
improbable. Yet such a solution had been found. It is a story 
which has not been fully told; there is no literature of reminis- 
cence from the African side as there is from the white. It seems 
worth-while, therefore, to devote the rest of this chapter to examin- 
ing how the Shona rising was organized in much the same way as 
we examined the organization of the rising in Matabeleland. 

The chief white explanation, once the shock had worn off a 
little was that the Shona had been intimidated into rising by the 
desperate Ndebele. As we have seen, whites believed that neither 
the secular nor religious authorities of the Shona commanded 
any significant power, and though the Native Commissioner who 
had expressed the view that the Hartley chiefs were completely 
powerless now lay dead near paramount chief Mashiangombi’s 
kraal there was a considerable reluctance initially to abandon these 

1 Grey to Charles Grey, 15 June and 3 July, to Lady Grey, 3 July 1896? 
GR 1 /i /i. 


beliefs. ‘This Mashonalancl rising is rather the devil,’ wrote the 
irrepressible Jarvis from Bulawayo on June 27th. ‘Of course it is 
nothing to be compared to this job, for the Mashonas are a 
wretched lot, but still there it is and has got to be smashed and of 
course will be smashed. They have murdered a lot of good fellows 
there and I am quite sure that the Matabele have instigated the 
whole thing. In fact I think a great deal of it is caused by the 
Matabele being defeated here and bolting off to Mashonaland 
to have a “cut in” there, thinking we have left that country 
defenceless.’ 1 

To begin with Judge Vintcent, the Acting Administrator in 
Salisbury, held the same view. There had been reports for some 
time — most of them discounted — of Ndebele overtures to the 
Shona. As early as March 27th, for instance, a Salisbury resident 
had warned the administration that Shona kraals near the town 
‘have lately been visited by Matabili who promised to give the 
country to them (the Mashonas) if they would help them against 
the Englishmen. These boys say that the Matabili know there are 
only a few men here and no guns (maxims) . . . also that the 
Matabili have been waiting for an opportunity to pounce down 
on Salisbury and Bulawayo for months. These boys say further that 
there are immense numbers of Matabili ready to come down on the 
towns at once. These boys are absolutely reliable.’ Chief Native 
Commissioner Taberer ‘after the most careful inquiry’ failed to 
find substantiation for this report in March, but the possibility 
of some such bargain between Ndebele and Shona remained in 
the minds of the administration. 2 

Then, after the Shona rising had broken out, there were many 
reports, some true and some false, of Ndebele participation and 
leadership in the initial outbreaks all over Mashonaland. There 
were undeniably Ndebele warriors in Western Mashonaland, 
where an impi later based itself on Mashiangombi’s kraal; and 
it was reported also that white settlers and patrols in the Salisbury 
area had identified Ndebele among their attackers. ‘During the 
evening’, ran one such report to Vintcent, ‘some of the Mashonas 
were very much disheartened and wanted to go home. We could 
hear the Matabele leaders haranguing them and scolding them 
for not fighting better. Also we could distinguish the voices of 

1 Jarvis to his mother, 27 June 1896, JA 4/1/1. 

2 Leon. H. Gabriel to ‘my dear Sir Thomas’, 27 Mar. 1896, A 1 / 12/27. 


Cape boys in the debate. I with others had no fear previously of a 
rising amongst the Mashona and was much surprised thereat and 
still more surprised at the amount of courage and diplomacy dis- 
played by them.’ 1 

These Mazoe Ndebeles were almost certainly imaginary, 
though the courage and diplomacy of the Shona in that area were 
not. Gradually it became clear that there had been little direct 
Ndebele influence in the greater part of Mashonaland. Marshall 
Hole, summing up the information available in October 1896, 
confessed that the Shona ‘have shown themselves capable of con- 
certed action 5 and admitted that this was certainly not the work 
of the Ndebele. ‘The rebellion here is of a very different nature 
to that in Matabeleland 5 , he wrote. ‘Here we have a race who have 
never been conquered, never even been warred against: the Mata- 
beles were a fighting nation by descent and had already measured 
weapons with us. That the outbreak of the latter gave the oppor- 
tunity to the former no one can doubt, but the causes of the rebel- 
lion in the two parts of the country are widely different.’ 2 

How, then, did the rising come about? We have already demon- 
strated how false many white beliefs about the Shona were; have 
shown how long Shona history had been and how keen a sense 
they preserved of it; have shown how resilient their way of life 
had proved over centuries of white pressure and how determined 
they were to defend it. For these reasons, and because of the specific 
grievances of white administration, it can be little surprise to us 
that the Shona rose in arms in 1896. But the problem still remains; 
in 1896 they showed ‘themselves capable of concerted action 5 . 

Contemporary white observers felt that two aspects of this 
concerted action required explanation. In the first place action 
within the Shona paramountcy units was much more coherent 
than had been expected; in the second place cooperation between 
the Shona paramountcies was much more effective. 

A great deal of the white criticism of the weaknesses of the 
Shona chiefly system proved justified during the rebellion. The 
customary rotation of the chieftainship among a number of chiefly 
lines sometimes meant that a rebel paramount would find him- 
self opposed by a rival claimant to the chiefly title leading a 
‘loyalist 5 faction. This happened, for instance, in the case of 

1 J. Folliott Darling to Vintcent, 26 June 1896, A 1/12/25. 

2 Marshall Hole’s report, 29 Oct. 1896, A 1/12/26. 


paramount chief Makoni of Maungwe, where the rebel paramount 
was opposed by a ‘loyalist’ faction under the command of Ndap- 
funya, son of a former chief and claimant of the paramountcy. 
The past history of Shona paramountcies, as well as supplying 
plenty of material for this sort of family feud, also often produced 
situations in which influential sub-chiefs or headmen could remem- 
ber a time of political independence and resented their relatively 
recent subordination to the paramount. This was the case once 
again in Maungwe, where sub-chief Chipunza attempted to take 
advantage of Makoni’s commitment to the rebellion to gain his 
independence. Moreover, in some cases the old rivalries between 
paramounts meant that one paramount would stay out of the 
rising because another had entered it. Once again this was the 
case with the rising in Maungwe; because Makoni was leading 
the men of his paramountcy into rebellion his old enemy, Mutassa 
of Manyika, remained ‘loyal’, lent support to Ndapfunya, and 
sent men to assist the white attack on Makoni’s kraal at Gwindingwi 
kraal. Finally, the Shona paramounts were usually middle-aged 
and sometimes old men; even where they committed themselves 
to the rising they often found others more radically committed 
than themselves — young men who had not yet had a chance to 
prove themselves in war, often their own sons. Potential challenges 
to the leadership of the paramount thus existed in Nohwe, where 
paramount Mangwede’s son, Mchemwa, emerged from the be- 
ginning as the more radical leader, in Maungwe, where Makoni’s 
son, Miripiri, played much the same role, and even in Manyika, 
where Mutassa’s decision to stay out of the rising was opposed by 
his eldest son. 

None of these weaknesses, however, prevented the Shona para- 
mountcies from demonstrating formidable capacities for leader- 
ship in 1896 and 1897. All rebel paramounts were supported by 
substantial majorities of their people and the whites often found 
that the extent to which ‘loyal’ dissident sections could be effect- 
ively employed against them was greatly limited by the respect 
in which the paramount was held — none of Ndapfunya’s men, 
for example, were prepared to lay hands on the Makoni. Mutassa’s 
decision to stay out of the rising because of old rivalries was not 
followed by the majority of the central Shona paramounts who 
showed a surprising capacity to sink their old differences. And 
however much friction might arise between a paramount and his 


militant sons there was no case in which a son carried the people 
of a paramountcy into rebellion— or out of it — against the will 
of the paramount himself. Makoni, despite all the weaknesses 
recorded above, was rightly regarded by the administration as 
‘one of the most powerful chiefs in Mashonaland’ who ‘had his 
people under control’. 1 

We may illustrate the way in which the administration came to 
realize the real authority of the paramounts by looking for a 
moment at one area — the Salisbury Native Commissioner’s 
district, under Native Commissioner Campbell. Before the rising 
Campbell had been as convinced of the paramounts’ weakness as 
anyone. He was lucky, indeed, not to share the fate of his colleague 
in Hartley. On June 20th he visited paramount Mashanganyika’s 
kraal, where his main camp was situated and where his brother, 
George Campbell, operated as a trader. He talked to Mashangan- 
yika about the rebellion ‘and what he meant to do. He said: 
“The white men are my fathers, I will stand by them”.’ Almost 
immediately after the Native Commissioner had ridden on, how- 
ever, an impi led by paramount chief Chiquaqua and his head 
fighting man, Zhanta, approached Mashanganyika’s kraal. As 
George Campbell stood watching its approach he was killed by 
Mashanganyika’s men; when Chiquaqua entered the kraal 
Mashanganyika shouted to his fellow paramount, ‘We have killed 
George but there is the policeman. Kill him.’ ‘Chiquaqua shouted, 
“How many have you killed?”; Mashanganyika replied, “Only 
one”. Then I heard Chikwakwa say’, so testified a witness later, 
‘let us make a ring around George’s brother and kill him too.’ 
And, indeed, when the unsuspecting Native Commissioner re- 
turned to Mashanganyika’s kraal and his own camp he was fired 
on by a force of some 500 Africans and managed only narrowly to 
escape. The two paramounts then sent out their men to bring in 
and to kill the whites of the neighbourhood. ‘I was told by the 
old man — by Mashanganyika — to go out and bring in prisoners,’ 
testified one warrior later. ‘As I came back I was told ... all white 
men were to be killed.’ ‘Mashanganyika did not join the impi,’ 
testified another. ‘He sent us to Chiquaqua who took command 
and told us to kill the white men.’ 2 

1 Vintcent to Carrington, 23 Oct. 1896, BA 2/3/1. 

2 Regina versus Zhanta; Regina versus Rusere and Wampi and Chiquaqua; 
Regina versus Mashanganyika, Gonto and others; HC/M, Nos. 213, 255, 300. 


It was small wonder that after these experiences Native Com- 
missioner Campbell reported that the chief instigators of the rising 
in his district had been the paramounts. And as the rising con- 
tinued he became increasingly impressed with the evidence of 
their power. In May 1897 he gave eloquent evidence of this. ‘The 
people south of the Ufumasi river in my district would willingly 
give in if the example were set them by Kunswi and Mashan- 
ganyika. The power that this latter chief has acquired since the 
beginning of the rebellion is enormous. ... It is absolutely useless 
to expect the smaller chiefs to give in before the paramounts no 
matter how anxious they may be for peace; if the paramounts 
held no power before the rebellion they certainly have a great 
influence now.’ 1 

At the level of the paramountcy, then, co-ordination was 
achieved through the paramount himself or his family. We have 
seen that in the Ndebele rising the military strength of the rebels 
depended upon the surviving institutions of the Ndebele military 
system, even if Mwari officers appear to have exercised a remark- 
able influence over the regiments. In the same way the military 
strength of the Shona rising — which was very different in nature 
from that of the rebel Ndebele — depended upon the mobilization 
of the fighting men of the tribes by the paramounts and their sons. 
In neither case was there an attempt to create a new military 
system, even if in both cases the emergency conditions gave scope 
for the emergence as war leaders of ‘new men’, not of traditionally 
leading families, whose abilities to handle modern weapons 
brought them to the fore. Thus the rebellion in each province could 
not rise above the limitations of the old military system and in 
Mashonaland this meant that it was not possible to put effective 
armies into the field, even when co-operation between various 
paramounts was achieved. The sort of discipline and regimental 
tradition which enabled the raising of the Umgusa force and the 
laying siege to Bulawayo could not be called upon in Mashona- 
land; Salisbury was not besieged in the same way, nor were there 
a series of pitched stand-up fights on the banks of any Shona river. 
The most that could be achieved was an exchange of intelligence; 
the offering of refuge by one paramount to another forced to flee 
from his home area; combined raids or ambushes by the forces of 
two or more paramounts, and so on. The epic fights of the Shona 
1 N.C. Campbell to C.N.C., 15 May 1897, N 1 / 1 /g and LO 5/4/3. 


rebellion were all essentially defensive ones, fights to defend the 
kraal of the paramount. The equivalent to the five battles on the 
Umgusa as far as the Shona rising was concerned was the series 
of white assaults on Mashiangombi’s kraal. 

But if dependence upon the military resources of the para- 
mountcies involved these limitations, nevertheless observers were 
astonished by the degree of coordination that was achieved between 
the paramountcy units. There was, of course, the coordination 
which lay behind the almost simultaneous outbreak of the rising 
itself; later there was certainly coordination of the response made 
to white peace overtures; and there was constant coordination of 
military matters in the limited senses described above. This supra- 
paramountcy coordination was not achieved through the para- 
mounts alone, however willing they might show themselves to 
cooperate. There was no machinery for a central council of para- 
mounts or anything like it. We have to look once again to the 
traditional religious authorities of the Shona to understand the 
coordination of the rising above the paramountcy level — and also 
to understand the commitment of people to the rising at the para- 
mountcy level, a commitment so complete and even fanatical 
that it cannot be explained simply in terms of loyalty to the 
paramount chief. 

We have already seen how two distinct but inter-related systems 
of approach to the divine evolved among the Shona peoples — 
the Mwari cult, of which we have already said so much, and the 
hierarchy of the spirit mediums. Both systems were deeply involved 
in the Shona rising. 

We may begin with the role of the Mwari cult. During the 
discussion of the organization of the rising in Matabeleland the 
point was made that the influence of the Mwari cult centres 
stretched outside that province. Evidence was cited to show that 
the influence of Njelele, at any rate at certain periods, was felt 
even in Portuguese East Africa; that the Matonjeni cult centre was 
especially influential in the Shona areas of Belingwe, Chibi, Gutu 
and Ndanga; and that Mkwati, with his base at the old Rozwi 
centre of Taba Zi Ka Mambo, was able to appeal to memories 
of the Shona past not only in north eastern Matabeleland but also 
in the western districts of Mashonaland. It is important to make a 
distinction at this stage between areas in which the prestige of the 
Mwari cult was high but in which the formal organization of 



recognized Wosana or Manyusa and local oracular caves did not 
exist, and areas where the full system was established. In the latter 
category fell large parts of Western Mashonaland. There is no 
doubt from evidence compiled in the years after the risings that 
there were Mwari messengers, a regular system of gifts to the 
main shrines, local caves, etc., in the Charter, Chibi, Gutu, 
Hartley, Ndanga and Victoria districts of Mashonaland; a great 
crescent lying immediately to the east of the Matabeleland border 
in which in 1896 the Mwari cult was in full operation and in 
constant contact with its Matabeleland centres. 1 

Outside this area I have come across no references to organized 
cult activity in Mashonaland. But the prestige of the cult, in- 
extricably bound up with the surviving prestige of the Rozwi, 
extended much further afield. Thus the Native Commissioner, 
Salisbury, reported in January 1896 that the Shona peoples of his 
area believed that ‘every MaRaswi is supposed to have a familiar 
spirit’ which ‘answers all questions asked of by its owner . . . from 
the sky, the tops of trees or out in the veld’. Thus the Native 
Commissioner, Makoni, reported in December 1894 that in 
Maungwe they spoke ‘of the WaRosi ... as God’s chosen people 
and have great respect for them, the VaRosi being looked upon 
as priests’. Even in Umtali, on the eastern border of Mashonaland, 
a reasonably full account of the Mwari cult was collected by the 
Native Commissioner in 1896. ‘The natives of Manicaland’, he 
reported, ‘worship a supreme being known as Morimo, Mali or 
Murunga. They believe he is omni-present but that he speaks to 
them only from one place, viz. Matjamahopli near Bulawayo, and 
then he will speak only to a chosen few. . . . The generality of the 
people don’t presume to pray to the Morimo personally but 
address Muzimo, the spirits of their ancestors and ask them to 
intercede for them. . . . Before the Matabele came the whole of the 
country was tributary to the BaRozi. Then they used to build 
huts in which to pray to the spirits, but this is seldom done now. 
They say the BaRozi are more holy than they and Morimo always 
listens to them.’ If the existence of the cult in fully organized form 
in western Mashonaland gave Mkwati an opportunity to link up 
discontent there with the rising in Matabeleland, the continuing 

1 Evidence relating to the Mwari cult in Western Mashonaland after the 
rebellion may be found in the following files: A3/18/2; An/2/12/11; 
N 3/14/5; N 3 / 3 1 / 3 ; N 3/33/12; N 3/32/1; LO 5/7/1 to 5; LO 5/5/5 to 33. 


prestige of the Mwari cult and of the Rozwi over this much wider 
area was also a factor of some importance in coordinating the 
rebellion in Mashonaland as a whole. 1 

Let us look first at the activities of the Mwari representatives in 
western Mashonaland. The existence of a fully operative Mwari 
system in an area did not automatically mean that it came out in 
rebellion. The Kalanga of south western Matabeleland did not 
rise and the districts of Ndanga and Chibi also resisted the in- 
fluence of Mwabani of Matonjeni and stayed out of the rising. 
But there is no doubt of the significance of Mkwati’s influence in 
the other districts of western Mashonaland. 

His key ally in those districts was a Mwari representative named 
Bonda, who worked so closely with him that Marshall Hole was 
later convinced that they were one and the same man! Bonda was 
a Rozwi headman, living under chief Musarurwa in the Range- 
Charter district, ‘the nursery of the Mashona rebellion’, as the 
official report on the disturbances later described it. Some time in 
April 1896 Mkwati sent a Rozwi Child of Mwari, Tshiwa, to 
summon Bonda and other representatives from the western 
Mashonaland area to his head-quarters at Taba Zi Ka Mambo. 
Bonda went there in May and with him went representatives of 
paramount chief Mashiangombi of the Hartley district. T hear 
from one of my spies’, wrote the Native Commissioner, Hartley, on 
May 24th, ‘that Mashayingombi himself is in communication with 
some-one in Matabeleland and has lately sent some young men 
down. I taxed Mashayingombi with this but he informed me that 
he had only sent to the Matabele Umlimo for some medicines to 
prevent the locusts from eating his crops next year. This spy also 
told me that it had been proposed by the Matabele and Maholi 
inhabitants to rise and first kill all my police . . . and then try 
Hartley. ... I attach no importance whatsoever to the above,’ 
concluded this tragically complacent officer. ‘I find the natives 
very quiet and civil when I go to their kraals to collect tax. 
But I am just complying with your instructions to report all I 
hear.’ 2 

Within two weeks the Native Commissioner was dead, killed 
near Mashiangombi’s kraal in the first outbreak of rebellion in 

1 N.C. Campbell’s report, Jan. 1896, N 1/1/9; N.C. Meredith’s report, Dec. 
1894, A 15/1/1; Native Commissioner Nesbitt’s report, 1896, N i/i/ii. 

2 N.C. Hartley, to C.N.C., 24 May 1896, N 1/1/3. 


Mashonaland. This outbreak was stimulated by the return from 
Taba Zi Ka Mambo early in June ofTshiwa, Bonda and Mashian- 
gombi’s emissaries, bringing with them ‘the Mangoba regiment 
. . . to incite the Mashonas into rebellion’. Most of the Ndebele 
impi remained at Mashiangombi’s kraal, which became the 
centre of the rebellion in western Mashonaland. Tshiwa and 
Bonda went on to carry the rising further afield. We get a glimpse 
of Tshiwa at work in the vivid reminiscences of Native Com- 
missioner Weale. ‘I sent messengers out into Ndema’s country to 
spy out the land,’ he tells us of the period just after the outbreak 
of the rising, ‘and the police boys brought back word to say that 
the whole of the country ahead was disaffected and that a Mon- 
doro of the Mlimo, a MaRozwi named “Tshiwa” was doctoring 
the rivers so that the whiteman and his horse’s feet would burn 
up when they stepped into the water, and stated that he had 
arranged it that our bullets would be as harmless as water, but 
what was more to the point was that they had distributed among 
them some Matabele braves to help and urge them on to fight. 
There does not seem to be the slightest doubt but that the Mashona 
rebels did believe that “Tshiwa” could perform miracles. Even 
some of Chilimanzi’s people did and to show that he had more 
faith in the white man than in these rumours he went with a party 
of white men and police boys, taking his own men too, and stepped 
into the river dividing Banga’s country from his own, and no 
doubt he felt very relieved to find his feet still normal after he had 
crossed. He then told his son to trust the whites as he had done and 
to follow them while he returned to his kraal to brag to his wives 
and to tell them what a brave man he was in spite of his old 
age.’ But Chilimanzi was very much the exception; his rival 
Banga and many other chiefs answered Tshiwa’s call and joined the 
rebellion. 1 

Bonda had equal success in his home area. ‘Mkwati . . . the 
high priest of the Mlimo had . . . despatched agents to Mashona- 
land’, the Company Report of 1898 tells us, ‘to work up a rebel- 
lion there, by playing on the credulity of the people and leaguing 
themselves to the local witch-doctors. These emissaries spread 
false reports of the annihilation of the white impis in Matabele- 
land and the fall of Bulawayo, and had little difficulty in urging 

1 Tshiwa’s statement, 10 Jan. 1897, LO 5/4/1; Weale’s reminiscences, 
WE 3/2/6. 


Maromo, Umtigeza and other chiefs in the Charter district to 
fall in with their suggestions.’ In July 1896 Colonel Beal collected 
evidence in the Charter district which showed what happened 
in some detail. According to his informants, Bonda had returned 
to his own kraal, accompanied by six Ndebele. He had then 
sent out the men of his kraal, as messengers of Mwari, to carry 
instructions to the smaller kraals in the neighbourhood, while 
he himself went to the kraals of chiefs Umtigesa, Meromo and 
Msango. ‘From there they went to Meromo’s,’ deposed one wit- 
ness; ‘when they came there they said they were sent by Umlimo 
and they were the Umlimo’s people. Meromo said he also was one 
of Umlimo’s people; he joined hands with them.’ The other chiefs 
in the district reacted in the same way and soon the local whites 
were being attacked and killed. 1 

We may legitimately draw on some later evidence to demon- 
strate the sort of prestige that men like Tshiwa and Bonda en- 
joyed in western Mashonaland and the way in which the cult 
could be used for the transmission of messages. In 1904 one 
Manyanga, a representative of the south-western Mwari shrine, 
travelled through Chilimanzi, Gutu and Ndema and eventually 
came to the kraal of the Njanja paramount, Gambiza, in the 
Hartley district. He ‘told Gambiza to give him meat and shelter 
. . . then told Gambiza to send for all his people. Gambiza did so 
and on their assembling told them that the prisoner had come 
from GwaMari, i.e. the Gods.’ Gambiza, though paramount, 
gave up his own hut to the messenger of Mwari; he and his 
headmen squatted on the floor in an adjacent hut, speaking with 
Manyanga through an intermediary because he ‘represented him- 
self to be a big man and would not speak directly to us’. Man- 
yanga was then escorted about the surrounding kraals by the 
paramount’s messenger, announcing that he ‘lived on beer, milk 
and meat and not on the ordinary food of natives and that if he 
got plenty of the former he would drive the white man from the 
land’. The only chief who refused to receive him was the cautious 
Gwenda, who testified significantly that Manyanga appeared to 
be ‘a big man . . . and was going about all the land. I concluded 
that this was a similar affair to that which happened before the 
last rebellion and would have nothing to do with it. What alarmed 
me about the accused coming to the kraal in the manner he did 
1 Evidence taken by Colonel Beal, July 1896, A 1/12/1 1. 


was that a man came in a similar manner just before the last 
rebellion and I compared him with that man.’ 1 

Considerably later, in 1915, Mwari messages were being passed 
from kraal to kraal in Gutu, Selukwe, Chilimanzi, Charter, 
Victoria and Ndanga. In Charter, for instance, ‘six young men 
and five young women wearing fantastic head-dresses made of 
limbo and drawing people around them by their talk, singing and 
tom-tom playing . . . were telling the people that they were sent 
by Mwari to convey his tidings to the people and to sing and play 
to them.’ In the Gutu area the messages were being passed on 
from village to village, chain-letter fashion. ‘They all say they 
got the message from adjoining kraals; people came singing and 
dancing and saying that they had received a message from Mwari 
that they were to visit six kraals, dance and sing and demand a 
fowl’, and to tell the people of those six kraals to do the same. The 
Native Police in Charter thought ‘that the movement is a mis- 
chievous one and similar to that which took place prior to the 
rebellion of 1896’. 2 

In this sort of way we may imagine the message of rebellion 
being sent out in western Mashonaland in 1896. In some places 
Tshiwa or Bonda or some other important Child of Mwari 
carrying the message himself and being greeted with instant 
respect; elsewhere the message being passed on from kraal to 
kraal until it had spread through the whole area. Nor did the 
importance of men like Bonda end when the rising had begun. 
We catch constant glimpses of him in the next few months, carry- 
ing messages from Mashiangombi’s kraal to the south and east, 
leading impis on raids on loyalists, and generally playing a most 
significant role in keeping western Mashonaland mobilized behind 
the rising. 3 

This then was the role of the Mwari cult in western Mashona- 
land; to help to link the rising there to the Ndebele rising, to 
help coordinate the rising within the area itself, and to maintain 
morale once the rising had begun. The links established between 
the western Mashonaland rising and Matabeleland were very 
much with Mkwati’s north-eastern faction. The Ndebele warriors 
who were sent to assist Mashiangombi and the other chiefs were 
members of the young man’s group which supported Mpotshwana 

1 Preliminary examination on Manyanga, A 11/2/12/11. 

2 Reports on Mwari messages, 1915, N 3/14/5. 3 See especially N 1 /i /$. 


and Nyamanda; reports of events in western Mashonaland 
flowed back as regularly to Taba Zi Ka Mambo as they had done 
from the banks of the Umgusa; and as we shall see when Mkwati 
was forced to flee from Matabeleland it was to Mashiangombi’s 
kraal that he chose to go. And if the western Shona were brought 
into the rising by Mkwati it was certainly not in the narrow inter- 
ests of any Ndebele faction. The outbreak in Mashonaland in- 
deed, made Mkwati’s ‘connection’ at least as much a Shona as an 
Ndebele one; and recalcitrant Ndebele received short shrift at 
the hands of the western Mashonaland cult officers. In May 
1897, for instance, Bonda was sent from Mashiangombi’s to bring 
into the rising an Ndebele induna named Simbobora, who had 
taken refuge in the Hartley district after the 1893 war. By that 
time the rising in Matabeleland was over and the main body of 
the Ndebele aristocracy had made their peace. Simbobora refused 
to rise and instead handed Bonda over to the police. The latter 
escaped during the night and returned with a punitive impi, 
killing many of the Ndebele and capturing more. Ironically, when 
Mashiangombi’s stronghold was finally stormed the besiegers saw 
a number of Ndebele escaping from it and shot them on the spot, 
supposing that they were punishing the men who had incited the 
Shona to rebel. They turned out to have been some of the un- 
fortunate ‘loyalist’ Ndebele taken prisoner in Bonda’s raid. The 
incident was a nice commentary on the supposed and the real 
organization of the western Mashonaland rebellion. 1 

But what of the rebellion in central Mashonaland, in areas 
where the Mwari cult only enjoyed a generalized prestige? There 
is evidence that Bonda was sent on missions in central Mashona- 
land also, but this was long after the outbreak of the rising and 
those missions were directed to scattered Rozwi groups who might 
be expected to be especially receptive to a summons to action from 
the Mwari priesthood. To understand the coordination of the 
central Shona rising and to complete our understanding of the 
western Shona rising we need to turn to look at the hierarchy of 
the spirit mediums. 

Here we must at once make one important point. When the 
leading student of the ritual and structure of the spirit medium 
system, Professor Gelfand, first set down his conclusions about it 
he postulated a clear spirit hierarchy operative all over Mashona- 
1 N.G. Hartley, to C.N.C., 12 Sept. 1897, N 1/1/3. 



land, in which the mediums of the less important ancestor figures 
were junior to those of the more important, and these junior to 
the spirits of dead kings, and all subordinate to the spirit of 
Chaminuka, so that the recognized Chaminuka medium at any 
one time would be at the apex of the whole system. When he came 
to study the system as it operated in north eastern Mashonaland, 
however, he became convinced that this picture would not do; 
one had to postulate at least two distinct hierarchies, if not more — 
the Chaminuka-Nehanda hierarchy of central and western 
Mashonaland, and the Mutota-Dzivaguru hierarchy of the north- 
east and east. As we shall see this picture in itself is probably an 
over-simplification but we must note here that whatever other 
modifications have to be made the division between these two 
areas, between the Chaminuka-Nehanda hierarchy and the 
Mutota-Dzivaguru hierarchy, does seem to be of particular 
significance. It derives, no doubt, from the past history of Mash- 
onaland and in particular from the fact that the north-east and 
east was the nuclear area of the Mwene Mutapa confederacy. In 
1896 the western and central areas of Mashonaland were generally 
involved in the rebellion and the Korekore and Tavara of the 
north-east were not. This can be explained partly in terms of the 
much lighter impact of Company administration in the Kore-Kore 
and Tavara areas, to which Native Department control and tax 
collection had hardly been extended by 1896, partly in terms of the 
resentment of the Korekore and Tavara at the raids into their 
areas which were a substitute for routine administration and which 
appeared to them rather as Zezuru invasions than anything else. 
It has also been explained by Father Devlin in terms of the 
religious division. However this may be, it is true that in our 
account of the 1896-7 rising we have to deal with the Mwari 
cult and with the mediums of the Chaminuka-Nehanda hierarchy 
but not with the mediums of the Mutota-Dzivaguru network. 
The mediums of this network were also capable of inspiring 
resistance and coordinating rebellion and they did so in the so- 
called Mapondera rebellion of 1900. But they did not use their 
influence in favour of rebellion in 1896. 1 

We must next turn to examine the idea of a Chaminuka- 
Nehanda hierarchy in more detail. How far did the mediums of 

1 M. Gelfand, Shona Ritual, 1959; Shona Religion, 1962; Devlin, ‘The Mashona 
and the Portuguese’, The Shield, May 1961. 



central and western Mashonaland form a regular and effective 
hierarchy, in constant communication with each other? How far 
could they provide an effective principle of centralization? The 
answer is that the system of the spirit mediums was even more 
complex than that of the Mwari cult and the relations of the 
mediums to each other even less susceptible of definition. No one 
senior medium enjoyed a determining influence over the whole 
area of the Shona rising nor did the mediums as a whole unani- 
mously agree to support it. (Thus Mr Abraham’s distinction 
between the mediums operative at the tribal and those at the 
supra-tribal level can be seen at work in the case of paramount 
Kunzwi-Nyandoro, whose tribal medium, Ganyere, advised 
against the rising, but who chose rather to follow the advice of 
the Nehanda medium.) Nevertheless, when these qualifications 
are made it remains true that the influence of the senior mediums 
was even in normal times more extensive than that of any secular 
authority and could bring together for ritual purposes rival, and 
even warring, paramounts. Once again we have later evidence 
which we can use to demonstrate the range of influence of an 
accepted Chaminuka or Nehanda medium. In 1903 a new Cham- 
inuka medium emerged in the Hartley area and the following 
chiefs either sent gifts or went in person to pay their respects, 
despite the dangers of administration suspicion and despite the 
fact that paramounts in office after the rebellion were mostly 
new appointments made on grounds of ‘loyalty’ — paramounts 
Mashiangombi, Mashaba, and Tumbare of Hartley district; 
paramounts Mashanganyika, Chinamora, Kunzwi-Nyandoro, 
Seki, Makumbi, Chiota, Mangwende and Zwimba of central 
Mashonaland. It was the combination that made the rebellion 
in miniature. They heard the medium pronounce— or so it was 
alleged; ‘I am Chamenuka. I know everything. I am all powerful. 
I caused the downfall of the Ba-Rozwi and the Matabele and I 
will cause the white man to leave the country.’ In 1906 a Nehanda 
medium arose, the first since the execution of the rebel Nehanda 
medium in 1898. Claiming to have come ‘to take care of all the 
Mashonas again’, she was visited by paramounts Wata, Chiweshe, 
Chinamora, Seki, Chikwakwa, Masembura and Gutu. 1 

The chiefs shown in these lists as acknowledging the influence 

1 Correspondence on the Chaminuka medium, 1903, A11/2/12/11; 
correspondence on the Nehanda medium, 1906, 1915, N 3/31/4 and N 3/14/5. 


of the mediums of Chaminuka and Nehanda were the successors 
of men who had been locked in bitter rivalries in the early 1890s 
but who had come together in the rising of 1896. That they were 
able to come together then was partly due to the principle of 
unity embodied in the senior mediums and in them alone. 

Let us look at the part played by one of these senior mediums — 
the medium of Nehanda. Before the rising it was believed in official 
circles that her influence was no longer significant. ‘Great belief 
was also formerly placed in the Mandoras or Lion Gods, and 
especially in one called Nianda,’ wrote the Native Commissioner, 
Salisbury, in June 1896, ‘but as Mr Selous puts it “since the 
arrival of the white man the Mashonas have lost belief in their 
Mandoras and the Mandoras have lost belief in themselves”.’ 
Two years later the same official was writing in very different 
vein. ‘Nianda has been constantly spoken of in my hearing ever 
since I came to Mashonaland in 1890 by the Mashonas. At the 
present moment Nianda is the most powerful wizard in Mashona- 
land and has the power of ordering all the people who rose lately 
and her orders would in every case be obeyed.’ Behind this change 
of opinion lay two years of activity on the part of the Nehanda 
medium in mobilizing and sustaining the rising in central 
Mashonaland. 1 

She was directly responsible for the death of Pollard, the Native 
Commissioner of the Mazoe area, at the outbreak of the rising. 
‘I was a native messenger,’ testified one Gutsa in January 1898. 
‘I went with Pollard to the M’Kori Kori. While there we heard of 
the God. Then we went to Chipadza’; there they fired at us. We 
then went to Jeta and there they fired at us. Pollard gave us money 
to buy sweet potatoes and as we returned a lot of boys came with 
us. Gwazi was told to catch hold of Pollard. I was told to hold his 
hands so that he should not hurt us with his gun. So they took 
him to Nianda . . . She said, “Bring him here.” Then she came 
and knelt down and spoke with Pollard, but we constables were 
surrounded in the middle. I heard Nianda say to Wata, “Kill 
Pollard but take him some way off to the river or he will stink”, 
so they took him off. We were there still surrounded close to him. 
Wata said, “Nianda sent me.” Then he took his axe and chopped 
him behind the head.’ 2 

1 N.C. Campbell’s report, Jan. 1896, N 1/1/9; N.C. Salisbury, to C.N.C., 
3 Mar. 1893, N 1/1/9. 2 Gutsa’s evidence, 12 Jan. 1898, HC/M, No. 252. 


Her influence was dominant on the rising in the Mazoe area 
generally. ‘Nehanda is responsible for rain and sometimes fighting,’ 
we are told by an old man living in the Ghiweshe Reserve. ‘She 
was behind the rebellion right from the start. Her great injunction 
was that the African people should touch nothing that belonged 
to the white man. The defeat of the Africans was the result of the 
violation of this great order. During the rebellion the power of the 
spirits rendered the white bullets useless and ineffective. Not many 
Africans were killed in the actual fighting.’ Encouraged by such 
promises of immunity the people of Mazoe and Chiweshe rose 
against the whites, and obeying the orders of the medium they 
carried the goods captured to Nehanda’s kraal, just as in Mata- 
beleland such goods were carried to Mkwati’s cave in Taba Zi 
Ka Mambo. ‘She received a very large share of the loot obtained 
by the natives’, reported the Chief Native Commissioner in 
March 1898. ‘Among other things obtained from Nianda’s kraal 
have been numerous rifles and over £140 in gold. I know that 
she still has concealed some £700, but because of the spirit she 
possesses the natives are afraid of giving any information thereon.’ 1 

In this way the Nehanda medium and many others helped to 
bring central Mashonaland into the rising in June 1896, just at 
the moment that Bonda and Tshiwa and the rest were raising 
western Mashonaland. How was this coordination established? 
One answer to this is that the mediums of central Mashonaland 
were in touch with the mediums of the Hartley and Charter 
districts and that the latter were working in an area in which 
the Mwari cult also existed in an organized form. This overlapping 
of the two systems was one of the main reasons why the Hartley 
and Charter districts became the ‘nursery’ of the Shona rising. 
Thus we have seen how the Children of Mwari carried the mes- 
sage to the chiefs in those districts, how Mashiangombi was in 
touch with Mkwati and how his kraal later became the main 
Mwari centre in Mashonaland. But at the same time, and with 
no sense of incongruity, the chiefs consulted the spirit mediums 
of the area. Mashiangombi had his own tribal medium, his half- 
brother Dekwende, who appears in the sources as helping to raise 
the country in June 1896, and the other chiefs, or some of them, 
had similar mediums at the tribal level. But over and above this 

1 Interview between Mr S. Nengubo and Mr Bob Nyatsinga, Nyachuru, 
Howard, 20 Jan. 1893; C.N.C.’s report, 4 Mar. 1898, LO 5/4/8. 


the Hartley area had been the home of the great mediums of 
Chaminuka, round whom the Shona had rallied in the nineteenth 
century when under heavy Ndebele pressure. The ruined kraal 
at Chitungwiza, destroyed by the Ndebele raiders instructed by 
Lobengula to break the power of the great mediums, remained 
one of the sacred places of Shona religious feeling. An active 
Chaminuka medium would, indeed, be the easiest way of account- 
ing for the coordination of the Shona rising; we have already seen 
the scope of the influence of such a medium when one appeared in 
1903; and the old links between the idea of Chaminuka and the 
Mwari cult were strong. 

In fact it does not seem that a recognized Chaminuka medium 
was active in 1896. No reference is made to one in the written 
sources and oral information holds that ‘there were several 
mediums here who claimed that at the time of the fighting they 
carried Chaminuka’s spirit but they were lying’. Oral tradition 
now envisages the role of the great Chaminuka spirit in a more 
metaphysical and disembodied way: ‘After his death he had no 
particular medium’, says one informant, ‘and was everywhere. 
The influence of Chaminuka was considerable during the rebel- 
lion and he would appear here and there. He was capable of inspir- 
ing masses of people and inciting them.’ 1 

Other supra-tribal mediums of the Chaminuka hierarchy were, 
however, active in western Mashonaland in 1896. Two who 
emerge particularly clearly from the evidence as having been 
deeply involved in the rising are the medium of the Goronga 
spirit and the medium of the VaChikare spirit. The Goronga 
medium lived in the Lomagundi district, where his influence on 
the rising seems to have been decisive; the Vachikare medium 
lived in Hartley district, but fled in the later stages of the rising 
to join ‘Goronga’ in Lomagundi. According to Bullock, in his 
very interesting treatment of Shona religion, these two spirits were 
very closely connected with Chaminuka in western Shona theology 
and ritual. He tells us, for instance, that after the death of Bute, 
one of the famous nineteenth-century Chaminuka mediums, the 
new medium was sent by the representative of Vachikare to 
present himself to ‘Goronga’ in Lomagundi; and he tells us also 
that the medium of the Gwenzi ancestor spirit, who acts as tribal 

1 Interviews between Mr Solomon Nengubo and Mr Maponga and Mr 
Nyatsinga, 18 and 20 Jan. 1963. 


medium for chief Chiveru of the Hartley area, recognizes his 
inferiority to the supra-tribal mediums of Chaminuka, VaChikare 
and Goronga; that he goes every year to commune with the 
Goronga spirit in Lomagundi, ‘at whose home his coming is 
heralded by magic fire’. The involvement of the VaChikare and 
Goronga mediums in 1896-7, then, clearly implies the commit- 
ment of the Chaminuka hierarchy to the rising. It also indicates 
one way in which the western Shona were linked with the central 
Shona; Bullock tells us that the great spirits of Chaminuka, 
Vachikare, Goronga, Nehanda, and the rest were members of 
‘a spiritual brotherhood’; Gelfand tells us that one can discern a 
Chaminuka-Nehanda system; and we may very reasonably im- 
agine that the Nehanda spirit, whose activities we have already 
seen, was in communication with her ‘spritual brothers’ in 
Hartley and Lomagundi. Moreover, these great mediums of the 
Chaminuka circle, so Bullock tells us, not only over-lapped with 
the Mwari cult territorially but were connected to it in a variety 
of ways; Bullock himself believes that the supra-tribal mediums 
were originally manifestations of the Mwari god-head who were 
then absorbed into the Shona system of ancestor spirits and 
mediumship. Thus we might reasonably account for the coordin- 
ation between north-eastern Matabeleland, western Mashonaland 
and central Mashonaland in terms of a working alliance between 
the Mwari officers, the mediums of the Chaminuka circle and the 
mediums of the Nehanda circle. This, in fact, is precisely how it 
was explained by the man whom the authorities themselves came to 
regard as primarily responsible for the rising — Gumporeshumba, 
medium of the Kagubi spirit. Facing trial in 1897 f° r instigating 
the risings, Gumporeshumba exclaimed, ‘I want Nehanda, 
Goronga and Wamponga brought in. They started the rebellion.’ 1 

There was still more to the story than that, however, and the 
authorities were right to suppose that the Kagubi medium was 
of central importance. In the remarkable emergence and domin- 
ance of this man we reach the final part of our explanation. 

Before describing his career we need to make the point that 
although the Mwari cult and the system of the spirit mediums 

1 Gumporeshumba’s evidence, 29 Oct. 1897, HC/M, No. 253; C. Bullock, 
The Mashona and the Matabele, 1950, chap. XI; for VaChikare, see, Rhodesia 
Herald , 12 Jan. 1898; for Goronga, see, Rhodesia Herald, 2 Feb. 1898; quarterly 
report, Lomagundi, 4 Apr. 1898, LO 5/4/1 1. 

\ T a A Shona attack on the communications system; the Mail Coach 
from Gwelo is ambushed by rebels on the Salisbury road, 1896. 

\ T b An eye-witness impression of the Mangwe indab a of June 29th, 1896, 
at which Native Commissioner Armstrong and Captain Van Rooyen 
announced to the Kalanga that the ‘Mlimo’ was dead. 






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were long established and associated with the great political 
systems of the past; although both were hierarchical to a greater 
or lesser extent; although the normal influence of both can be 
described as ‘conservative’ in the sense that they called people 
back to the norms of the past; both of them nevertheless gave 
plenty of scope for the emergence of figures with special super- 
natural gifts and with new injunctions and commands. We have so 
far written of the involvement of these systems as the involvement 
of ‘traditional’ religious officers and structures; an elaborate 
and aged machinery lying to hand which was made use of in the 
rebellion of 1896. Such a view has a certain truth but we should 
not forget two things. One is that the systems as they existed in 
1896 were the products of countless changes, some of which have 
already been indicated; they were not static or fixed, nor were the 
relationships between the various priests and mediums. The 
other is that however much these systems were linked up with 
supra-tribal or tribal political systems — with the institutional 
‘establishments’ of Shona history — they still retained their 
essential charismatic character. From out of the Mwari cult and 
from out of the hierarchies of the spirit mediums there could 
emerge — and no doubt there often had in the past emerged — 
charismatic prophet figures, whose spiritual power or power of 
personality was capable of throwing relationships within the cults 
into a new pattern, and who were able to break away from the 
established inter-relationship with political authority. One might 
speculate, indeed, that a constant theme of Shona political history 
has been the rise and fall of figures of this kind, sometimes offering 
a challenge to established political power, sometimes acting as a 
rallying point in a period of political breakdown, as the great 
Chaminuka mediums did in the middle decades of the nineteenth 

The situation in 1896-7 was particularly propitious to the 
emergence of such charismatic prophet figures. It was in a true 
sense a revolutionary situation, revolutionary in the sense that 
what was needed was the total overthrow of existing white con- 
trol, in the sense that what was needed was a revolutionary 
fervour and commitment on the part of the rebels, and in the 
sense also that something was required over and above the 
fragmented remnants of pre-European political systems, both in 
order to organize a rising and to provide a vision of society when 



the rising had been successful. The rising could not be organized 
merely by making use of surviving political institutions; nor could 
the aims of the rising be merely to return to a state of impotent 

What one can call ‘traditional’ religious systems could help to 
provide, as we have seen, co-ordination and inspiration. But 
perhaps a new element was required even in the field of belief. 
The ‘traditional’ systems offered many advantages — an area of 
normal influence larger than that of any secular authority; the 
ability to command the support of both Ndebele and Shona; the 
ability to appeal to a glorious past. Full use was made of all these 
advantages. But at the same time there emerged a leadership able 
to transform the appeal of the religious systems into something 
more radical and revolutionary; a prophetic leadership operating 
over and above all the restrictions implied by hierarchic order 
and links with the past. This was the sort of leadership offered by 
Mkwati in Matabeleland. As we have seen, he had no claim be- 
fore the rising to be the senior Mwari cult representative; at that 
time Mhlope tells us, he was merely a messenger of Mwari, and 
as a Leya ex-slave not a member of the inner-circle of the Rozwi. 
It was just before and especially during the rising that he emerged 
as ‘the great Mlimo’, to use European terminology. When he did 
so it was with a revolutionary message and with a revolutionary 
set of instructions. His followers were promised invulnerability 
and even immortality; they entered a new society which trans- 
cended the old, no matter how effective at the same time were his 
appeals to the memory of both the Ndebele and the Rozwi 
empires. As we shall see, when the rising became really desperate, 
the authority of Mkwati and the other cult officers who had chosen 
the same path was elevated above that of ‘traditional’ political 
authorities; indunas and chiefs were deposed. For however brief 
a period Mkwati was seeking not merely to co-ordinate but 
to create a ‘new order’. He was opposed, as we have seen, by 
those who believed themselves to be guarding the true traditions 
of the Mwari cult — the officers of the south-western shrine — 
as well as by those whose interests were vested in the old political 

The Kagubi medium seems to fit into the same pattern. As 
we grow to learn more about the spirit mediums — and investi- 
gation of the Kagubi spirit is one of the most important tasks for 


African scholars of the rebellion — it may be that we shall discover 
that the Kagubi spirit has always held an important place in 
Shona theology. There is little evidence to suggest this at the 
moment. The Kagubi spirit does not appear as part of Professor 
Gelfand’s Chaminuka-Nehanda hierarchy; Bullock tells us that 
the claims of the medium in 1896 were novel and were eventually 
repudiated by the Shona themselves as fraudulent so that no 
medium of the Kagubi spirit re-appeared after his death. I am 
unaware of any documentary reference to the Kagubi spirit or 
its medium prior to 1896, while there are many such references to 
Nehanda and Chaminuka. And both contemporary European 
and African oral evidence suggest that the Kagubi medium’s 
commanding influence developed only in association with the 
movement towards rebellion. 

The Native Department, summing up their knowledge of the 
causes of the Mashonaland rising in 1898, were decisive in their 
view that the Kagubi medium had not been an important figure 
before the rising; and equally decisive in their view that during 
it he had been by far the most important figure. ‘Previous to the 
late rebellion’, wrote Native Commissioner Campbell, in whose 
areas ‘Kagubi’ had lived, ‘Kagubi was of no more importance 
than any other common or barn door Mondoro. . . . He was only 
a common mondoro, scores of which can be found in every dis- 
trict.’ ‘Prior to the rebellion’, wrote the Chief Native Commis- 
sioner, ‘Kagubi was a common Mondoro (one who purports 
and is believed to be possessed of a spirit). He resided in the Salis- 
bury district, and was believed by the natives to be possessed of 
the supernatural power of locating and enabling people to capture 
game. . . . Immediately previous to the present rebellion Kagubi 
betook himself to the Hartley Hills and immediately became the 
most prominent Mondoro in connection with the rebellion. . . . 
As Kagubi was, previous to the rebellion, only a common Mon- 
doro, and as his great scheme (the rebellion) failed, I do not 
think anyone will arise purporting to have received his super- 
natural powers. With Nianda it is different. Previous to the re- 
bellion she was by far the most important wizard in Mashonaland 
and was in the habit of receiving tribute from all the chiefs who 
took part in the rebellion.’ 

And yet, the Chief Native Commissioner continued, ‘during 
the recent rebellion Nianda appears to have greatly respected 


Kagubi and his cause and to have sent tribute to him and assisted 
him in every manner. The natives around the Mazoe district 
communicated with Kagubi through Nianda.’ This reversal of 
roles understandably puzzled the Native Department. But once 
the rising was over, they were convinced, the normal hierarchical 
relationship would be restored. 'There is no doubt that now the 
rebellion is over Nianda would be far more dangerous to the 
peace of the country than even Kagubi would be.’ 1 

The African oral evidence presented by Joshua Chidziwa, in 
his collection of Shawasha tradition, really amounts to a ‘mythical’ 
account of how the Shawasha people of the Salisbury district 
moved out of the era of inter-tribal conflict and reliance on group 
loyalty and sanctions and into the period of attempted African 
collaboration against the whites. It is an account which hinges 
around the Kagubi medium and which brings out his significance 
in this context; it is an account, also, which shows his authority 
before 1896 as potential rather than actual; repudiated by the 
Shawasha rather than accepted. The story, which is worth telling 
briefly, runs as follows. After the death at the hands of the Ndebele 
of the great medium of the Chaminuka spirit, Pasipamire, the 
Shawasha people sent out a party to seize the herds of the dead 
man. This action was followed by famine. ‘In Chishawasha there 
was a man called Kaguvi of the tribe of Rwize and he was the 
brother of Pasipamire. Kaguvi explained to the people of Chisha- 
washa and to the people of Seke saying, “This starvation which 
has come to your countries was brought by Chaminuka whose 
treasures you have taken. I have heard the voice of God coming 
from a rock saying. ‘You must pay back the cattle of Chaminuka’.” 
When the VaShawasha heard this they refused because among 
them there was no medium of mhondoro. Kaguvi told them to 
give two cattle to Nehanda but they refused. There came much 
starvation to Chishawasha and the people went to other countries 
to buy food.’ During the course of this famine the Shawasha suf- 
fered an even worse disaster; they lost the powerful war medicine 
which had made them invincible through all their nineteenth- 
century wanderings. Thus when in 1896 the Kagubi medium told 
them: ‘I have heard a voice from trees and rocks saying, “Kill 
all the white men but do not take their things,” ’ the Shawasha 

X N.C. Campbell to C.N.C., 3 Mar. 1898, N 1/1/9; report by C.N.C., 
Mashonaland, 4 Mar. 1898, LO 5/4/8. 


hastened to obey. In this new struggle the Shawasha were linked 
with ‘Makoni, Svosve, Mashayamombe, Nyandoro and all the 
chiefs of the vaZezuru’; in place of their own war medicine which 
in the past had sustained them against these new allies they 
trusted in the pledge of ‘Kagubi’ and ‘Nchanda’; ‘They will not 
kill you because if they try to shoot you with their guns, Mwari 
will turn their bullets into water.’ 1 

It is doubtful whether a complete account of how the Kagubi 
medium came to assume this central role will ever be possible. 
But certain things can be said. Like the Mwari cult the system of 
the spirit mediums readily allowed for reversals of influence and 
for the emergence of new men of power. Spirit mediums were 
respected partly because they stood in a long line of mediums of 
powerful spirits, partly because of their own evident spiritual 
gifts. New manifestations of the divine, moreover, had been fitted 
into the system regularly over the centuries. The ‘Kagubi’ medium 
clearly possessed striking gifts of personality and prophecy; he 
also gained great prestige through his close association with the 
Mwari cult, and may, as we shall see, have been regarded in 
addition as the vehicle of a new manifestation of the god-head; 
at any rate he emerged in 1896 as the Mashonaland equivalent 
to Mkwati; the layer down of the new law; the guarantor of 
invulnerability; the bringer, almost, of a new dispensation. 
Over and above the paramounts effective in their own area; 
over and above the complex inter-relations of the Nehanda 
with the Chaminuka hierarchy and both with the Mwari cult; 
the figure of the Kagubi medium provided coherence to the Shona 
rising. 2 

1 Joshua Ghidziwa, ‘History of the Vashawasha’, JVADA, Vol. IX, No. 1, 

2 It should be said that there are two interesting references in a diary kept 
during the 1896 rebellion, which if genuine would seem to indicate that 
‘Kagubi’ was well known to old timers and expected by them to play a leading 
role in the rising. The entry for June 17th 1896 in the diary kept by a young 
resident of Bulawayo, F. R. De Bertodano, runs: ‘Selous says witchdoctor 
Kagubi and witch Inyanga are the chief ones to start the Mashona trouble’. 
The entry for June 19th runs: ‘Johann Colenbrander told us at the club this 
evening that the Mashona rising had been caused by a Mlimo named Kagubi 
and Nyanda a witch-doctor,’ I find these entries hard to accept as contem- 
porary — Bertodano’s diary is deposited in the Salisbury Archives in type-script 
and it is not possible to check with the original. I can find no similar references 


No doubt it was because of his supernatural gifts partly that the 
Kagubi medium was first summoned to assume this position, called 
out of the Shawasha area in April 1896 by paramount chief 
Mashiangombi when there was need for a man to link the planned 
rising in the west with the paramounts of central Mashonaland. 
But there were other reasons also. If Shawasha tradition is 
correct the Kagubi medium was related to the heroic figure of 
Pasipamire. Certainly he was well known to Mashiangombi 
himself; he had been born in the Hartley area and was a member 
of the family of chief Chiveru, whose own medium’s place in the 
Chaminuka circle we saw above. Moreover ‘Kagubi’ was well 
known to the central Shona paramounts also. He operated in 
the years before the rising in paramount chief Chiquaqua’s area, 
was son-in-law of paramount chief Mashanganyika, and was 
consulted by paramount chief Kunzwi Nyandoro. He was an 
excellent choice for liaison purposes. 

Events appear to have followed this course. In April 1896 
Mashiangombi received messages from Mkwati, offering assist- 
ance to a rising in Mashonaland if one could be organized. 
Mashiangombi then sent for the Kagubi medium, and when the 
paramount’s messengers accompanied Tshiwa and Bonda back 
to Taba Zi Ka Mambo some of ‘Kagubi’s’ people went with 
them. According to the Native Commissioner, Mazoe, re- 
constructing from the evidence of prisoners in 1897, ‘Umquarti 
told them that he himself was a God and could kill all the whites 
and was doing so at that time in Matabeleland and that Kargubi 
would be given the same power as he, Umquarti, had and was to 
start killing the whites in Mashonaland. Immediately on receipt 
of these messages Mashiangombi started killing the whites and 
Kargubi then sent orders to all the paramounts and people of 
influence to start killing the whites and that he would help them 
as he was a God.’ There is some reason to suppose that after his 
contact with Mkwati the Kagubi medium was claiming to 
represent the manifestation of Mwari which was designated by 
the title ‘Mulenga’ or ‘Murenga’ in Shona theology, but however 
we interpret the evidence there is no doubt that he did base 
himself on Mashiangombi’s kraal from April 1896 to the end of 

to ‘Kagubi’ in any of Selous’ or Colenbrander’s papers or publications nor in 
any official correspondence until the end of 1896. 


the year and that he did send out from there messengers to central 
Mashonaland who played the same part in mobilizing the country 
there that Tshiwa and Bonda were playing in the west. 1 

We can follow this process in some detail from the record of 
scores of preliminary examinations into charges of murder ol 
whites held in Mashonaland in 1897 an d 1898. It appears from 
these that at the end of May or the beginning of June 1896 the 
Kagubi medium summoned representatives of the central Shona 
paramounts to his new headquarters, using the same pretext as 

1 N.C. Mazoe, to C.N.C., 20 Oct. 1897, N 1/1/6. 

There seems no doubt that the Kagubi medium became widely known during 
1896 and 1897 under the title ‘Mulenga’ or ‘Murenga’. The problem is what 
that title meant. The name is a common one in Central Africa — it is used for 
a figure in the Bemba spiritual hierarchy, for example. According to the 
missionary scholar, Von Sicard, Mulenga was the title of one of the manifest- 
ations of the Shona trinity; a trinity consisting of Mwari, the father; the mother 
or wife of Mwari; and the son, Mulenga. According to Francois Coillard, 
recording a visit in 1874 by Basuto evangelists to Shona chiefs, amongst them 
Mashiangombi, the Shona were impressed by the resemblance of the gospel 
story to ‘one of their ancient traditions — namely that the son of one of their 
great chiefs had disappeared mysteriously and that every tenth day ought to 
be observed among them in his memory until he should come back. They also 
shaved their heads at the new moon in his honour’. It is tempting in this con- 
text to see the collaboration of Mkwati, Tenkela-Wamponga and ‘Kagubi’ 
as an embodiment of this trinitarian notion, and the new power of the ‘Kagubi’ 
medium as the result of his acceptance as the returned Mulenga. There is even 
evidence of a sort which could be held to justify such an interpretation. At a 
preliminary inquiry in 1898, for instance, a witness described how at the 
gatherings at Mashiangombi’s the Kagubi medium would rush “into the 
centre of the people, who were sitting in a circle, shouting out ‘I am the Son 
of God’.” At another examination a man charged with the killing of a white 
near Mashiangombi’s kraal testified that he was called to join the attack upon 
the Europeans with the words ‘M’Lenga has risen’. To the Shona the rising 
came to be known as Chi-Murenga. On the other hand the evidence is not very 
strong; African evidence in preliminary inquiries was often mis-translated; 
most Shona today explain the meaning of Chi-Murenga as a time of violent 
upheaval, without reference to a Mulenga divinity. The theory remains un- 
proven, therefore, but it would be extremely interesting to see it followed up 
if more oral evidence about the Kagubi medium and his role in 1896-7 is forth- 
coming (see Report on preliminary examination in Dekwende’s case, Rhodesia, 
4 June 1898; preliminary examination in the case of Regina versus Rusere, 
HC/M, No. 246. Von Sicard ’s views on the trinity are cited in, Hilda Kuper, 
A. J. B. Hughes, J. Van Velsen, The Shona and Ndebele of Southern Rhodesia, 1954. 
The account of the Basuto evangelists is given in, F. Coillard, On the Threshold 
of Central Africa, London, 1902, p. xxv). 


Mashiangombi had advanced for sending his messengers to 
Mkwati. ‘I remember the recent rebellion,’ testified a witness in 
1898. ‘I was then living near Mashiangombi’s kraal. I remember 
the people assembling at Mashiangombi’s kraal to get medicine 
for the locusts.’ It was a distinguished assembly, or rather series 
of assemblies. The central Shona chiefs sent trusted headmen or 
close relatives, in many cases their sons. Chief Chiquaqua, for 
instance, sent Zhanta, his best warrior and commander of his 
impis before 1890 and again after the outbreak of the rising; chief 
Zwimba sent his son; chief M’Sonthi sent his younger brother; 
chief Garamombe sent his son. These we know to have been there; 
others, in view of their later close collaboration with Kagubi we 
may guess to have been there: men like Panashe, bandit son of 
chief Kunzwi-Nyandoro, or Mchemwa, or the turbulent sons of 
Makoni. 1 

At these meetings news of the progress of the Ndebele rising 
was given; at this time, it will be remembered, Mkwati was bring- 
ing his picked impi back to the Umgusa. Assurances of the support 
of Mkwati and his Ndebele allies were also given and the Kagubi 
medium urged the central Shona peoples to join the west in a 
movement against the whites. Plans for an outbreak as simultan- 
eous as possible were laid; it was to wait until the arrival at 
Mashiangombi’s of Bonda and Tshiwa with the Ndebele warriors; 
and once it had begun the news was to be carried to central 
Mashonaland by messengers and passed from hill to hill there by 
the signal fires which Edwards saw on his way to Marendellas. 
The leading role of ‘Kagubi’ emerges quite clearly from the 
evidence. We possess a report of him, assisted by Mashiangombi’s 
medium, Dekwende, addressing the assembled representatives of 
the central Shona chiefs while in a state of trance, ‘pretending’, 
as the hostile account has it, ‘to be possessed by the Mulenga’, and 
in that condition giving ‘order for the destruction of anybody 
obnoxious to him. . . . These orders were believed by the natives to 
be inspired by their God’. ‘What can I say?’ asked Zawara, son of 
chief Garamombe, when facing trial for murder in November 1897. 
‘All this occurred through Kagubi. He said all whites must die this 
year. . . . He gathered us to his kraal and said I am the God.’ 2 

1 Evidence of Marowa, 7 Dec. 1898, HC/M, No. 391. 

2 Rhodesia, 4 June 1898; evidence of Zawara, 23 Nov. 1897, HC/M, Nos. 213 
and 215. 


From these gatherings word was swiftly carried back to central 
Mashonaland. We can see the process at work in the Salisbury 
district in which the role of the paramounts has already been 
examined — and so add an essential element in the story of the 
outbreak of the rising in paramount chiefs Chiquaqua and Mash- 
anganyika’s areas. It will be remembered that ‘Kagubi’ had lived 
in Chiquaqua’s paramountcy and was well known to the chief 
and to men like Zhanta, and that he was connected to Mashan- 
ganyika through marriage. It might be expected, then, that his 
influence would be strongly felt in the area, and strongly felt it 
certainly was. 

We have seen that Zhanta, the war-leader, was sent as represen- 
entative of the area to the meetings at Kagubi’s kraal. ‘Kagubi 
sent two messengers to Mashanganyika’s,’ testified the old warrior 
in October 1897. ‘They went to Gonta’s and told the people 
they were to come to Kagubi’s at once. I went with them. I 
thought he would give us something to kill the locusts. When I 
got there he ordered me to kill the white men. He said he had 
orders from the gods.’ Zhanta’s return from the meeting is vividly 
described by other witnesses. “Zhanta was Kagubi’s postman. He 
brought a message that day that the Mashonas must kill all whites. 
I heard him deliver a message to Chiquaqua.’ After the message 
was delivered, Chiquaqua’s impi set out for Mashanganyika’s 
kraal; seeing George Campbell being attacked, so witnesses 
testified, ‘Zhanta shouted, “Kill him, Kill him. Kagubi says so.” ’ 
‘I was living at my kraal,’ testified Chiquaqua. ‘Mr Campbell 
came there the day the God said kill all the white people. I killed 
no one. My people murdered the white men. ... I lived all right 
in my kraal with Mr Campbell but Kagubi said all the white men 
must be killed. That’s all.’ 1 

Evidence of this sort, testifying to an implicit obedience to 
Kagubi’s commands, comes not only from his old home area, but 
from all over central and western Mashonaland. ‘It was said by 
Kagubi that the whites must be killed so Nuja my father told his 
people that it was the order’; ‘The M’Lenga said all the white 
men must be killed so I gathered all my people and went to 
White’s farm’; ‘The God came and said “Kill all the white men”. 
So we said we had better go and kill’; ‘I was at the kraal and 

1 Regina versus Zhanta; Regina versus Mashanganyika, Gonto and others; 
Regina versus Wampi, Chiquaqua, and Rusere; HC/M, Nos. 213, 248, 300. 


heard all the whites were being killed. They said it was Kagubi’s 
orders’; ‘The murders were committed by order of Kagubi. I 
heard his messengers give the order. . . . Zwimba’s son brought us 
the message Kagubi sent to Zwimba’; ‘I am not guilty. It is the 
law which was given by the God’; ‘They said it was Kagubi’s 
order to hit the white man so I did’; ‘I was sent by God to go and 
kill George. Kagubi sent his impi to my kraal and said all the white 
men must be killed’; ‘We should not have gone to kill Eyre with- 
out M’Sonthi’s orders. Kalunga brought the order from Kagubi 
to M’Sonti. We should not have killed him without orders’; ‘I 
was working for Eyre when the word came from Kagubi that all 
the white men were to be killed and a lot of men came to my 
master’s place. I was told to get hold of his legs so I threw him 
on the ground and the others hit him on the face’; ‘It was Kagubi’s 
fault’. These testimonies came from the Hartley, Marendellas, 
Lomagundi, Mazoe, Umvukwes and Gutu districts — a spread 
covering virtually the whole area of the Shona rebellion. Their 
spirit is perhaps best summed up in the evidence of Chinende, 
house-maid to White of Marendellas. She testified that four men 
from Chizengeni’s kraal entered her master’s house, and that she 
heard them cry out, ‘The will of God.’ ‘That is why I looked 
inside. I expected to find the white man dead, that is Kagubi’s 
law .’ 1 

The impression given by this evidence that the mere orders of 
the ‘Kagubi’ medium could transform loyal servants and peaceful 
neighbours into ferocious adversaries of the whites is no doubt in 
many ways a misleading one. It clearly overstates the importance 
of the ‘Kagubi’ medium as distinct from other influences — those 
of the other senior spirit mediums, for instance. We should per- 
haps rather imagine a general response to his initiative in which 
the Nehanda and the Goronga and other senior mediums also 
played a significant part. ‘Whilst referring to the Mondoros’, 

1 Evidence of Mutuma, 4 Feb. 1898, HC/M, No. 241; evidence of 
Chizengeni, 26 Jan. 1898, HC/M, No. 243; evidence of Chiriseri, 30 Dec. 

1897, HC/M, No. 244; evidence of Zidemo, 3 Feb. 1898, HC/M, No. 247; 
evidence of Tinani, 4 Jan. 1898, HC/M, No. 256; evidence of Mabidza, 30 
Dec. 1897, HC/M, No. 258; evidence of Masenda, 8 Feb. 1898, HC/M, 
No. 261; evidence of Chizanga, 24 June 1898, HC/M, No. 333; evidence of 
N’Dawere, 27 June. 1898, HC/M, No. 341; evidence of Kakobongo, 25 Aug. 

1898, HC/M, No. 378; evidence of Gutu, 15 June 1898, HC/M, No. 342; 
evidence of Chinende, Jan. 1898, HC/M, No. 243. 


wrote a Native Commissioner after the rising, ‘in the event of a 
rising it will be to them that all blame must be attached, as there 
is without doubt a certain secrecy among the Mondoros which 
has yet to be found out. As we all know in our last rebellion there 
were, so to say, two heads to the Mondoro following, viz. Kagubi 
and Nehanda, to whom pretty well all other petty Mondoros 
were continually communicating. . . . The importance of such 
people is so great, that I have no hesitation in stating that no 
matter what other influence was in vogue could they be captured 
at any time previous to a contemplated rebellion the whole 
conspiracy would collapse.’ 1 

Moreover we should remember that the call to revolt came into 
a situation of general grievance; a situation in which powerful 
paramounts had already been moving into intransigent defiance 
of the law and in which their subjects increasingly resented tax 
and forced labour. The great missionary, John White, then at the 
beginning of his long career in Mashonaland, wrote to the press 
in January 1897; ‘As is their custom these Mashonas when they 
need advice resort to these mediums of their gods. The witch- 
doctors then inquire from the Murenga — the Great Spirit. “If 
you want to get rid of all your troubles,” they replied, “kill all the 
white men.” That the advice was atrociously cruel and fearfully 
indiscriminate we will all admit. But think for a moment. These 
people are utterly savage and reason accordingly. They believed 
they had grievances; they ignorantly thought we had brought the 
plague amongst them; they knew nothing of venting their griev- 
ances in a constitutional manner. According to their notions the 
best way to rid themselves of an evil is to destroy its cause. Hence 
they listened to the advice of their prophets. . . . These witch- 
doctors through their coming much into contact with men are 
naturally shrewd and cunning. They took good care to give their 
advice when it was likely to be acted upon.’ 2 We must remember, 
after all, that there were areas which defied the call both of the 
Mwari officers and the mediums and refused to enter the rising. 

Nevertheless when these qualifications have been made, and 
when we have borne in mind also the very natural tendency of 
men on trial for their lives to find someone else upon whom to 
place the blame, it is clear that the Kagubi medium not only 

1 N.C. Kenny, 1 May 1904, N 3/14/7. 

2 John White’s letter in The Methodist Times, Jan. 1897. 


played a very important role in coordinating the rising at a supra- 
tribal level, but also that as the prophetic leader of a revolutionary 
rebellion he exercised a much more authoritarian command than 
anthropologists have found to be the case with spirit mediums in 
‘normal’ situations. The spirit medium is said to be an expresser 
of the consensus rather than a commander; but though the Kagubi 
medium could also be described as the articulator of the consensus 
that the time had come to rebel he was clearly more than that. 
After the rising had broken out he continued to play an authori- 
tarian role. He not only stimulated the first killings but also in 
some senses directed them, making sure that goods taken from 
the whites were sent to him and taking particular care over the 
distribution of firearms. Thus a witness who was describing the 
killing of whites in the Mazoe area — the famous attack on the 
Norton farm on June 17th 1896 — told how after the fighting, ‘we 
went home and feasted and were driving off the cattle when 
Kagubi sent and stopped us and took them himself’. Another 
witness, describing a killing in the Hartley area, told how a gun 
was taken from the dead white and how ‘Kagubi’s people took 
the gun away that day but they sent it back afterwards to the 
prisoner because he had killed a white man’. Another described 
how after the killing of a Cape African in Hartley the dead 
man’s gun was taken ‘to Kagubi who took it and kept it. 
Then we stripped the place and took everything to Kagubi.’ 
Chief Gutu was said by witnesses in 1898 to have sent the 
live-stock of whites murdered in his area to the Kagubi medium’s 
headquarters. 1 

The Kagubi medium also received reports on the progress of 
fighting and issued advice in much the same way as Mkwati had 
done in Matabeleland. One illustration out of many that might 
be quoted will suffice. In July 1896 two spies reported that they 
had been out to Norton’s farm in Mazoe, now occupied by 
rebels. The rebels were drumming in the hills and when asked 
what was happening answered that they had sent a messenger to 
Mashiangombi’s and ‘were anxious to know when the messenger 
to the “Lion God” would be back, as they wanted orders’. And, 
as we shall see, the Kagubi medium exercised a most profound 

1 Evidence of Vellem and Tonga, 3 and 7 Feb. 1898, HC/M, No. 242; 
evidence of Sarurgwa, 19 Jan. 1898, HC/M, No. 257; evidence of Chimana, 
24 June 1898, HC/M, No. 333; Regina versus Gutu, FIC/M, No. 342. 


influence over the conduct of the paramounts when the first white 
peace overtures were made to them at the end of 1896. 1 

All this serves to emphasize the point that has already been 
made. The Kagubi medium was more than a senior spirit medium. 
He brought thousands of Shona into membership of a new society, 
the true-believers in the M’lenga, with their own distinguishing 
symbols and obligations and their own promises of divine favour. 
This loyalty to a supra-tribal society and this belief in the millen- 
arian transformation of colonial society helps to account for the 
fervour of the Shona rising. ‘They promised to give charms to all 
who would fight,’ wrote Marshall Hole of the Kagubi medium 
and his allies in 1897, ‘to render them proof against the bullets 
of the white man which would turn to water or drop harmless 
from the mouths of those they struck. ... In almost every kraal 
the natives, even the women and children, put on the black beads, 
which were the badge of the Mondoro, while their fighting men, 
with Kaffir cunning, waited quietly for the signal to strike down the 
whites at one blow. So cleverly was their secret kept, and so well 
laid the plans of the witch-doctors, that when the time came the 
rising was almost simultaneous and in five days over one hundred 
white men, women and children were massacred in the outlying 
districts of Mashonaland.’ 2 

Here this chapter has returned to the theme of its opening — the 
sudden attack upon the settlers of Mashonaland, which, as Mr 
Gann has recently reminded us, cost them ‘something like ten 
per cent of their total number, a staggeringly high figure, infin- 
itely greater than the proportion of casualties suffered by white 
colonists in the Algerian national rising or the Mau Mau war in 
Kenya in the twentieth century’. As we began with the memories 
of one white of those days of astonishment and terror let us end 
by seeing the outbreak of the rising through the eyes of an African 

The story told by Gonye, resident of Marawera’s kraal, near 
Mashiangombi’s, of the killing of the trader Mooney on June 20th, 
1896, is in its way a parable of the relations between black and 
white in Mashonaland in the year of the rising. ‘Finangundu said 

1 Intelligence report by Captain Judson, Salisbury laager, 6 July 1896, 
A 1/12/27. 

2 H. M. Marshall Hole, ‘Witch-craft in Rhodesia’, The African Review, 6 
Nov. 1897. 



“M’lenga has risen”, and I heard the guns firing as the white man 
was on horseback. Then Chiramangu fired and the whiteman rode 
on and then he jumped off and tied up his horse. ... I heard 
Rusere say, “The white man is up in the kopje”, and as we came he 
fired, so we lay down, and the second shot hit Chiweshe. And as 
we came closer the white man said, “Come here all you boys ”, 
and then Chiweshe fired and then Rusere and Maromo fired and 
there were no more shots from the white man and Rusere said, 
“If you hear another shot then I am not Rusere for I have hit 
him in the forehead and killed him.” ’ In this way began the bitter 
struggle which was to shake both white prestige and Shona society 
to their foundations . 1 

1 Evidence of Gonye, 3 Feb. 1898, HC/M, No. 246. 


War and Peace in Matabeleland, 
June to December 1896 

The impact of the Shona rising upon the situation in Matabele- 
land was not primarily a military one. The Mashonaland settler 
forces were, of course, rushed back to their own province but it was 
decided not to divert the main body of the imperial troops away 
from their task of breaking Ndebele resistance and storming Taba 
Zi Ka Mambo and the Matopos strongholds. A new force was to 
be landed at Beira, whose main task would be to clear the road 
between Salisbury and the sea and then to attack the main centres 
of the rising in Mashonaland. Save for a delay of a week or so while 
the implications of the Shona rising were digested and these 
arrangements agreed to, military operations in Matabeleland were 
not much affected by the new rebellion. 

Nevertheless, the fact of the Shona rising did have a most pro- 
found impact upon the situation in Matabeleland more generally 
and provided the context in which the events of the second half of 
1896 must be understood. This was because the Shona rising 
greatly weakened the position of the British South Africa Company 
administration. Already financially strained by the Ndebele rising 
itself the Company now faced in Mashonaland the expenditure of 
much more money — to meet the costs of the new imperial force; to 
compensate the Mashonaland settlers; to keep Salisbury supplied. 
Unless the rebellion in the two provinces could be brought to an 
end in 1896 the Company faced bankruptcy; the maintenance of 
forces through the wet season and campaigning on perhaps a more 
extended scale in 1897 could well force a surrender of the Charter 
and of administrative responsibility. 

In any case this administrative responsibility was threatened. 
During 1896, of course, the inquiry into the Jameson Raid was 
taking place; the outbreak of the rising in Matabeleland had pro- 
vided more ammunition for the Company’s critics and allowed an 
imperial foothold in Rhodesia; the outbreak in Mashonaland, so 
unexpected, weakened the moral position of the Company still 



more. It increased the bitterness of the settlers against an adminis- 
tration which had been unable to protect them, intensified the 
suspicion that the native policy of the Company must be oppressive, 
and involved the despatch of further imperial forces. Two com- 
ments made in June 1896 will sufficiently demonstrate the dangers 
to Company control brought about by the sequence of disasters 
which had culminated in the Shona rising. 

One comment was made by the missionary, Douglas Pelly, who 
had worked in Makoni’s area, then gone to Matabeleland with the 
Salisbury column, and was now hastening back to see if his col- 
leagues and property in Maungwe were safe. (They were not; the 
mission property had been destroyed by Miripiri’s men, and Ber- 
nard Mzeki, his South African catechist, had been killed.) ‘Things 
are serious,’ he wrote on June 28th, ‘and the rising in Mashonaland 
is general and is now reported to have spread into the Portuguese 
country. Everyone out here seems to think that the Charter is 
doomed and Jameson is pretty freely execrated as the chief cause 
of all our troubles. I hope the Charter will go; it would be a real 
blessing to get rid of financial men as rulers. They always have 
far too many interests to serve, their own private ones being by no 
means the least of these.’ 1 

A day later another, an even more threatening, comment was 
made by the Acting High Commissioner, General Goodenough. 
In a memorandum entitled ‘The future military occupation of 
Rhodesia’, Goodenough reviewed the situation created by the 
Shona outbreak. ‘The numbers and attitude of the Mashona and 
Matabele make it probable that the maintenance of a large force 
in the country will be necessary for a considerable time. The 
settlers can with difficulty furnish this force, and are wanted to 
continue the work of development; any strong police would be 
extremely expensive.’ The answer, thought Goodenough, was to 
retain a strong imperial garrison under the command of an 
officer responsible to Sir Richard Martin. ‘On very many grounds’, 
he concluded, ‘the having a substantial Imperial force in Rhodesia 
would be satisfactory. . . . The South African Republic Govern- 
ment have asked the Imperial to take over Gharterland and for 
once we might agree with them so far.’ 2 

1 Entry for 28 June, Pelly diary, PE 3/1 /2. 

2 Goodenough to Robinson, 29 June 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, p. 265; 
BA 2/1/1. 


In comments like these Rhodes saw a greater threat to his plans 
for Rhodesia than that presented by the rebels themselves. At all 
costs the Company must prove itself capable of bringing the risings 
to a rapid end; the settlers must be won over to continued Com- 
pany administration; the imperial troops must be got out of the 
country before their presence there turned gradually but in- 
evitably into imperial control of the administration. 

Meanwhile the task of tackling the Ndebele strongholds re- 
mained to be attempted. We have seen that after the final Um- 
gusa defeat and the arrival of the imperial troops the rebel forces 
fell back into two very strong defensive positions — Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo and the Matopos hills. The new ability of the whites to 
send out strong patrols into the open country had brought about 
the concentration of the rebel forces in these two areas, the Um- 
lugulu faction in the Matopos, the north-eastern faction gathered 
around Mkwati at Taba Zi Ka Mambo. In the last days of June 
forts were established close to each rebel concentration and pre- 
parations were made to assault them. 

Taba Zi Ka Mambo was chosen as the first target. There, after 
the Umgusa fight, were gathered together Mkwati, Tenkela and 
Siginyamatshe, with the many minor officers and messengers of the 
Mwari cult centre; Mpotshwana and his Nyamandhlovu regi- 
ment, Mtini and his Ngnoba regiment, Nkomo and his Jingen or 
Zingeni force, together with other Ndebele fighting men from the 
Bulawayo area and elsewhere. Nyamanda and many other mem- 
bers of the royal family were there also. And there were large 
numbers of Shona fighting men, drawn from the tributary peoples 
of the north-east; a group of them, under the command of Ma- 
kumbi, who had led the killings of the whites at Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo, now formed the special bodyguard of Mkwati. There also 
was the Rozwi messenger, Tshiwa, returned from western Mashona- 
land after his part in bringing about the rising there. Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo thus represented a still formidable concentration of the 
various elements in the risings. Nor was its offensive spirit broken. 
At the beginning of July Mtini, who still served as overall military 
commander, and Siginyamatshe were planning to attack the new 
fort at Inyati and to wipe out its garrison . 1 

1 This picture of the grouping at Taba Zi Ka Mambo is built up out of 
scattered references in files BA 2/9/1 and BA 2/9/2, and files LO 5/6/1 and 
LO 5/6/2. 


The attack on them, entrusted to Plumer, was delivered first. 
Plumer’s assault was perhaps the most successful single action of 
the white forces during the fighting of 1896 and 1897. Plumer and 
his force left Bulawayo on June 30th and reached Inyati on July 
3rd. On the 4th the scout, John Grootboom, was sent out; he 
reported that rebel pickets were out during the day watching the 
approaches to Taba Zi Ka Mambo and that they were aware of 
the arrival of Plumer’s force. That afternoon, indeed, in the Taba 
Zi Ka Mambo stronghold, preparations were being made for a 
defence against the white attack, which was expected to be deli- 
vered the next day; the great herds of cattle and sheep which had 
been collected there and the mass of property taken from the 
whites killed in March were gathered together to be despatched 
northwards on July 5th. Plumer, however, decided that nothing 
effective could be done unless the defenders were taken by sur- 
prise and therefore ordered a night march, so timed that the 
assault on Taba Zi Ka Mambo would be delivered at dawn on 
July 5th. He also ordered a series of flanking movements, so that 
the main attack would be delivered from the north and so that the 
flight of the defenders in that direction and to the west would be 
intercepted; fugitives from Taba Zi Ka Mambo were to be driven 
south or east into open country. 1 

A number of accounts of the fighting at Taba Zi Ka Mambo 
exist. Almost everyone who could manage it accompanied Plumer’s 
force — Rhodes himself, Jarvis, Stent, the recently arrived corres- 
pondent of The Times , Baden-Powell — and most of them wrote 
about it. Stent’s account is by all odds the most vivid. ‘All through 
the night we rode — a stealthy band of khaki grey intruders ... on 
towards the mountain looming indistinct before us. Then the 
picket fires of the rebels lifted through the cumber of the night. 
Men gripped their rifles, loosened a round or two in the bando- 
liers, and peered grimly out into the murk. Now the column broke 
— some to outflank the position, others to move into the heart of 
the enemy’s fastness. . . . Grey dawn found us standing to our 
horses. In front of us a crop of isolated granite kopjes which formed 
the object of Plumer’s attack. Clear upon the cool wind of the 
morning, the wind that wakes, came the crack! crack! of the 
Martinis, answering the dull heavy explosions of the old elephant 
guns which the Matabili carried. . . . Out of the hills the retreating 

1 Plumer’s diary of the Taba Zi Ka Mambo action, July 1896, BA 2/9/1- 


Mashonas — Mashonas invariably led the retreat — came streaming 
across our front. The machine-guns spat viciously at them as they 
ran. Among the hills the musketry began to babble incessantly. 
The dawn glowed red. The Matabili were making a stand in a 
central kopje — a nasty one to tackle. Suddenly just in front of us a 
few men that looked like a picket fired on us and bolted. The 
squadron trailed after them in pursuit. One man drew out ahead, 
in spite of warnings and expostulations. I spurred on to see. It was 
Rhodes himself, riding unarmed, a switch in hand, leading the 
hunt.’ 1 

Stent was with the flanking cavalry; meanwhile a stiff fight was 
going on in the central fastness of Taba Zi Ka Mambo. Plumer 
later described it ‘as a confused mass of kopjes with grassy hollows 
scattered among them; all these kopjes are full of caves and shelters 
formed among the interstices of the boulders and capable of con- 
taining many thousand people. . . . The whole position is one of 
vast natural strength and capable of protracted defence.’ Never- 
theless it was stormed, as Plumer laconically recorded. ‘The 
fighting resolved itself into a series of independent actions among 
the kopjes and these lasted from 6 a.m. till 12 noon. The rebels 
fought determinedly in the kopjes but were finally driven out. 
Their loss is estimated at about 100.’ 2 

Once in possession the triumphant whites examined their prize. 
There was the Mwari cave to investigate; the cave from which the 
Umgusa force had received its orders. ‘An examination of the 
caves in the gorge behind West’s store pointed to one in particular 
as being probably the residence of the Mlimo, being arranged so 
that the oracle could speak through a crevice in the rocks to the 
indunas assembled in the cave. Large quantities of loot from 
various localities were found there. . . . One party of women 
evinced the greatest reluctance to passing near the cave supposed 
to be the Mlimo’s.’ There was the old hill of the Mambo itself, 
where once before an African leadership had made a stand against 
invaders — a kopje on the eastern side of the entrance to the valley, 
the passage to which ‘is not more than 70 yards wide and is com- 
pletely dominated by precipitous rocks on either side’. Some of the 

1 De Vere Stent, A Personal Record of Some Incidents in the Life of Cecil Rhodes , 
Cape Town, 1924. 

2 Note on Taba Zi Ka Mambo by Plumer, July 1896; Plumer to Chief Staff 
Officer, Bulawayo, 5 July 1896, BA 2/9/1. 


stifFest fighting of the engagement had taken place there. And 
there were crowds of women and children and herds of cattle. 
Stent describes the triumphant return from Taba Zi Ka Mambo, 
so different from the stealthy approach. ‘An extraordinary spec- 
tacle. First the screen of scouts, riding in careless mood . . . then a 
great mob of cattle— ten thousand head, they said; they seemed to 
cover the veld for miles. They suggested gigantic locusts and were 
not in a hurry. . . . Then, tramping in rough formation, the 
prisoners and the women and children . . . then our ambulances, 
such as they were, and the main body.’ 1 

The attack on Taba Zi Ka Mambo had been a spectacular 
success, even though the calibre of African resistance had been 
disconcerting — ‘this Matabele rising is a tough nut to crack’, 
wrote the Bulawayo Sketch on July nth, as the white casualty lists 
came in. Plumer’s tactics had resulted in the breaking up of the 
force which had been together since the first Umgusa fights of 
April. The hundreds of fighting men who escaped from Taba Zi 
Ka Mambo on July 5th made mainly southwards; ‘the tracks 
leading from Tabas I Mamba show that a considerable number of 
the rebels fled in a south-easterly direction towards the Matopos’. 
These men joined the forces of Umlugulu, Sikombo, Dhliso and the 
rest in the defence of the Matopos strongholds. But the leadership 
of the north-eastern faction went in other directions, and thus lost 
from July 5th onwards, a large proportion of their followers. 2 

The intriguing confrontation of the two inspirers of white and 
black morale — Rhodes with his riding switch and Mkwati with 
the staff which Baden-Powell later acquired and used as a black- 
board pointer during his lectures on the campaign — did not 
materialize on July 5th. By the time the white attack was delivered 
Mkwati had already gone. ‘When the white forces were advancing 
on Ntaba Zi Ka Mambo the Mlimo said he was going to examine 
and inspect the land in the Somabula forest,’ Malima tells us, ‘and 
on the night before the fight Umkwati followed him.’ Mkwati was 
not alone, however, and his flight was not the panic affair depicted 
in the white press. Mtini, Nkomo and Makumbi and their men 
went with him; so, of course, did Tshiwa and the officers of the 
Taba Zi Ka Mambo shrine; so did a number of members of the 
royal family. Siginyamatshe was left behind with the remaining 

1 Plumer to C.S.O., 8 July 1896, BA 2/9/1; Stent, op. cit. 

2 Plumer to C.S.O., 8 July 1896, BA 2/9/1, 


force; from all indications it seems that he was intended to 
evacuate the stronghold on the following day and to bring the 
remaining fighting men, the cattle, and the women and children 
on after Mkwati. 1 

This plan was, as we have seen, frustrated; most of the defenders 
of Taba Zi Ka Mambo, Siginyamatshe among them, fled south 
instead. Contact was never again resumed between Siginyamatshe 
and Mkwati. Moreover, there was soon a division even amongst 
those who had left Taba Zi Ka Mambo before the attack. 
Mpotshwana, induna of the Ny amandhlovu, hitherto a close associate 
of Mkwati and Mtini, now decided to break with them and to 
pursue his own line. He determined, as Selous put it, ‘to establish 
an independent nation’ in the north; his mind turned to the classic 
Ndebele expedient of the trek away into new territory. On July 
27 th it was reported that ‘Mpotshwana with a number of men is at 
junction of Gwai and Shangani rivers’, far in the north-western 
corner of Matabeleland, ‘arranging for boats to take them across 
the Zambesi. The Nyamandhlovu regiment started for the Zam- 
besi but sickness having broken out among them, they have 
returned to the Bembesi river.’ 2 

Mkwati had no intention of following a trek across the Zambesi 
or participating in an attempt to refound the Ndebele state some- 
where in north-western Rhodesia. The Mwari cult, universal 
though its divinity was, was also rooted in the past of Southern 
Rhodesia; Mkwati was moving closer to his Shona allies and the 
fundamental divergence of interest between him and the men 
whose main aim was a return to the system of Mzilikazi was 
beginning to show. After the fall of Taba Zi Ka Mambo, Mkwati 
fell back along a line between Inyati and the main centres of the 
western Mashonaland rising, moving out of the area of the Ndebele 
rising proper and into the area of the Shona subject peoples. In 
late July he and his followers, Mtini, Nkomo and Makumbi still 
among them, were in the Somabula forest, close to the country of 
his father-in-law, Uwini, from which he planned to draw pro- 

Carrington was fully justified, then, in his claim that the action 
at Taba Zi Ka Mambo had broken up ‘such cohesion as remained 

1 Malima’s statement, i Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/2. 

2 Staff Diary entry for 27 July 1896; Secretary, Administrator, to Cape 
Town Office, 31 July 1896, LO 5/6/2. 


among the rebels threatening the country round Bulawayo’. The 
remarkable achievement of the north-eastern faction, which had 
combined so many divergent interests into so effective a force, 
was now falling apart. 1 

And yet the fighting at Taba Zi Ka Mambo had one other im- 
portant result — successful as it was it still helped to turn Rhodes’ 
mind towards the idea of a negotiated peace with the rebels. 
Stent tells us of Rhodes’ reaction. Dramatic, even melodramatic, 
as Rhodes’ part in the attack had been — ‘Rhodes is very like 
Napoleon’, wrote Jarvis admiringly. ‘He quite thinks that he was 
not intended to be killed by a d ... d nigger!’ — the impression he 
carried away was not one of triumph. Nine whites had been 
killed in the fighting; they were buried on the spot, wrapped in the 
hides of some of the captured cattle which had been shot for food. 
‘There had been a good many natives killed, too,’ Stent tells us. 
‘But the death of the rebels who had murdered white women and 
children did not come home to us as the death of these of our own 
kind and colour. It cut Rhodes to the heart. . . . Soldiers of 
fortune, if you will; having their faults, not too overburdened 
with humane considerations; they asked for no quarter; they 
probably would have given none. But they were the men that 
Rhodesia wanted to smooth her rugged ways; to break her in. 
They were the price of victory and the price was heavy. . . . This 
rough and hurried burial of the men who had given their lives for 
Rhodesia brought home to him, as nothing else could have done, 
the meaning of war — the cruel bloodiness of war.’ That night, as 
Rhodes brooded over the camp fires, ‘there came to him the idea of 
meeting the Matabili themselves, learning what they fought for, 
and trying to bring about Peace’. 2 

Though other considerations were certainly also in Rhodes’ 
mind there seems no doubt that the resistance put up at Taba Zi 
Ka Mambo did turn his thoughts in this direction. Rhodes’ party — 
Jarvis and the rest — had been as loud as anyone in their demands 
for a total and unconditional victory; for the trial and execution 
of all instigators of the rebellions; for a final smashing lesson that 
Rhodesia was white man’s country. But Rhodes knew of the dan- 
gers to the Company of allowing the rising to drag on; it must be 
ended in 1896; and the experience of Taba Zi Ka Mambo made 

1 Carrington to High Commissioner, 8 July 1896, BA 2/9/1. 

2 Jarvis to his mother, 19 Aug. 1896, JA 4/1/1 ; Stent, op. cit. 


him doubt whether it could be ended by fighting. The Matopos 
presented a much greater problem for an attacking force and they 
were held by rebel impis still fresh and confident. If the rising 
could not be ended in 1896 by force it must be ended in some other 
way. After Taba Zi Ka Mambo Rhodes was determined to seize 
the first chance of negotiation, or to manufacture a chance if none 

First, however, as Stent puts it, the small group in favour of 
negotiations had ‘to let the troops blood themselves a little’. This 
they certainly did in the fighting in the Matopos which followed. 
The Matopos area was much too extensive to allow the sort of 
flanking tactic which Plumer used successfully at Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo. Its kopjes had to be stormed one by one in an often vain 
attempt to force their defenders to a stand-up fight. The area was 
now occupied by the experienced senior indunas of the Umlugulu 
faction. ‘Under Lobengula there were two factions,’ wrote the 
missionary Carnegie in July; ‘one representing the old warriors 
and the other the “young bloods”. From all I can gather today 
these two parties still exist in the land; the one in the Matopo hills 
and the other in the bush country in the north. . . . The nation as 
such, in my opinion, is divided into two factions, the one under 
Umlugulu and Umfesela among the Matopo hills and the other 
under Umtini, Buqwele and others in the bushy country. The 
final stand will most likely be made among the Matopo hills.’ 
Strengthened by the refugees from the Taba Zi Ka Mambo garri- 
son, ‘the old warriors’ and their young followers prepared to resist 
Carrington’s attack. ‘They are aware of General Carrington’s pre- 
parations and intend to fight’, it was reported on July 20th, ‘but 
will not make a stand in one place.’ 1 

Despite these difficulties a momentary optimism possessed set- 
tlers and soldiers as Carrington’s forces moved off to the Matopos. 
‘Rebels to be attacked all sides Monday,’ ran one cable despatched 
from Bulawayo, ‘Natives flying northwards in large numbers. 
Rebellion will be crushed in three weeks. Settlers now hopeful. 
Position of whites strong all over.’ There followed an agonizing 
series of engagements in the Matopos; Babyaan’s stronghold was 
attacked; Sikombo’s stronghold was attacked; Dhliso’s stronghold 
was attacked. In each case the rebels were compelled to evacuate 

1 Carnegie to Sir Richard Martin, July 1896, C. #547; The Times , 20 July 


the kopjes which they had been defending, but in each case they 
moved to a similar area, as easy to defend; rebel losses in these 
engagements were relatively low, white losses relatively high. ‘The 
Matopos, as you know by now,’ wrote Lady Grey to her children, 
‘extend a very long distance and fighting in them is practically 
throwing away valuable lives for no adequate gain. The men are 
simply shot at from behind rocks without ever really a chance of an 
open fight and if they do drive the enemy back a kopje or two and 
kill a certain number of them very little is gained for they simply 
retire on other kopjes and after a time come back and re-occupy 
the old positions when the white force has moved somewhere else.’ 
‘Our poor men are quite helpless,’ wrote her daughter, Victoria, 
‘for they can only hear the bullets whizzing and they never see the 
niggers who fire out of these hidden caves.’ 1 

As the pattern of the Matopos fighting emerged so settler 
optimism sharply receded. ‘If things don’t look up’, wrote the 
Bulawayo Sketch on July 25th, ‘it will be our backbone that will be 
broken not that of the rebels.’ ‘Captain Laing’s and Captain 
Nicholson’s engagements with the Matabele crack regiments are 
described as “drawn battles”,’ commented the Westminster Gazette 
on July 27th, ‘but when the officers in charge have to sound “cease 
firing” and the troops fall back “without making any impression 
on the enemy”, can we be wrong in supposing that the Matabele 
themselves would regard both events as victories?’ ‘Press cor- 
respondents here complain of the action of the authorities in sup- 
pressing details of recent engagements,’ reported The Times on 
July 28th. ‘Arrivals from the front confirm previous reports as to 
the extreme confidence and arrogant bearing of the rebels who jeer 
at the whites and call them cowards. They also state that in the last 
engagement the enemy sustained no loss . . . there is a growing fear 
that the troops are insufficient to put down the rebellion effectively.’ 

This was a conclusion that many were coming to. At the end of 
July Jarvis, for instance, was still demanding the annihilation of 
the rebels. ‘The witch-doctors have a great power over the 
rascals,’ he wrote on July 30th, ‘and the fanaticism is extra- 
ordinary — they are told and believe all sorts of things, poor devils. 
The only thing to be said is that wherever the mission station is 
there are the biggest blackguards, so the best thing to do is to wipe 

1 Lady Grey to her children, 27 Aug. 1896; Victoria Grey to Charles Grey, 
14 Sept. 1896; GR 1/1/1. 


them all out as far as one can — everything black. It would do some 
of these wretched Exeter Hall crowd a power of good to go through 
a job like this — I don’t think we should have such a lot of cant and 
hypocrisy and false sentimentalism in the Old Country if they 
could be sent out in batches and put through a healthy course of 
kaffir fighting.’ But Jarvis’ own course of kaffir fighting was com- 
pelling him to realize how difficult it would be to punish the 
Ndebele in the way that he desired. ‘It would take an army of ten 
thousand men’, he wrote in the same letter, ‘to thoroughly sweep 
the place and even then there would be great loss of life and you 
would have to calculate how many men you could afford to lose in 
order to gain each position.’ General Carrington, irked and baffled 
by a military situation which did not respond to his customary 
direct methods, had also become convinced that the Matopos 
campaign was going to be a long job which needed many more 
men. ‘They are now attacking the Matopo hills,’ wrote Carnegie 
on July 24th, ‘but Sir Frederick Carrington who has been out with 
Col. Plumer in one of these engagements is reported to have 
stated that until he gets 3000 men these hills can’t be cleared of 
rebels. There has been some severe fighting this week and at least 
over 20 white men have been killed and twice that amount 
wounded. . . . My own opinion is that if it is not over in six weeks 
it won’t be in six months ... if the indunas refuse the war may drag 
on all through the rainy season which will soon be upon us.’ 
Carrington’s own view, expressed some six weeks later, was that if 
the rebels in the Matopos were to be dealt with by fighting ‘we 
shall probably have to blockade and harass them until the next dry 
season and then get up a larger force with recognized transport.’ 
For the campaign of 1897, he wrote, he would ask for a further 
2500 white infantry, a detachment of engineers for blasting 
operations, two to four mountain guns, and 2000 carriers. 1 

This was exactly the sort of thinking that Rhodes dreaded and 
could not allow to develop. By the end of July he had resolved to 
make contact with the Ndebele leaders and to offer a negotiated 
settlement. Despite the rebel successes there were, in fact, some 
indications that the senior indunas would welcome such overtures. 
While the fighting at Taba Zi Ka Mambo and in the Matopos had 

1 Jarvis to his mother, 30 July 1896, JA 4/1/1 ; Carnegie to Thompson, 24 
July 1896, L.M.S., Matabele Mission, Vol. 5; Carrington to Rosmead, 11 
Sept. 1896, C.O., C.P., 520, p. 543. 


been going on, white patrols had been destroying crops and 
burning kraals in the open country; in July there was already a 
great shortage of food in the hills; and continued resistance through 
the wet season would mean that no new crops could be grown and 
the nation would face starvation. Scraps of information came to 
hand which indicated that there was a growing dispute between 
the intransigents, headed by the Mwari officers, and these who 
were inclined to a settlement or perhaps even a surrender. On 
July 14th, for instance, it was reported that the Mwari officers had 
‘deprived’ Dhliso ‘of his indunaship’; Dhliso had been one of the 
last to enter the rising and was suspected by the radicals. ‘Such 
was the belief they had in this Mlimo’, wrote the Chief Native 
Commissioner later, ‘that any headman or induna who showed the 
slightest sign of wavering in not joining in with the instigators of 
the rebellion was immediately removed from his indunaship and 
his cattle and other possessions were at once handed over to the 
Mlimo’s lieutenants. This I learn and am convinced was the case 
with the induna Dhliso. . . . Other cases where certain indunas have 
lost their titles by order of the Mlimo have also been brought to 
my notice.’ It was hardly surprising that friction grew up between 
the Mwari officers and the Ndebele leaders generally; the same 
divergence of interests between the two parties was developing 
both in the north and in the Matopos. In the Matopos, however, 
the Mwari officers did not possess a personal body-guard of 
devoted Shona adherents, nor were the Ndebele leaders in a 
minority among a Shona population, as was the case in the Soma- 
bula. The Matopos cult leaders were able to retain the loyalty of 
many of the young men, but they could not prevent Umlugulu 
and the older indunas from re-asserting their separate authority. By 
the beginning of August, so the whites learnt from a captured 
member of the Ndebele royal family, Umlugulu, Sikombo and 
other senior indunas had quarrelled with the Mwari priests, who 
were threatening to leave the Matopos. ‘Mlimo now has nothing 
to do with the revolt. He does not like the Matabele and talks of 
clearing out of the Matopos. . . . Before they had determined to 
surrender the Mlimo had ordered them on no account to leave the 
hills. The Matabele are now fighting in self-defence. If chance had 
been left to them of coming in, they would have done so.’ 1 

1 Staff Diary, 14 July and 9 August 1896; C.N.C. to Grey, 2 Sept. 1896; 
LO 5/6/2, LO 5/6/3 and LO 5/6/4. 


It was Rhodes’ plan to play upon these divisions in the Ndebele 
ranks and to appeal to the senior indunas. At the same time as his 
attempts to make contact with them, there was also an imperial 
peace endeavour on foot, though on a very different basis from 
Rhodes’. On July 4th the Acting High Commissioner, Good- 
enough, had issued a Proclamation of Amnesty. This defined the 
area formally regarded as being in rebellion; notified the penalties 
for remaining in arms in those areas; described a method of sub- 
mission; and promised amnesty and security of life and property 
to all those who laid down their arms by August 10th, 1896. In a 
schedule attached to the proclamation were listed the names of the 
ring-leaders excluded from the amnesty offer, which included the 
names of Umlugulu, Sikombo, Babyaan, Somabulana, Nyamanda 
and the rest of the Ndebele leadership. The intention of the im- 
perial authorities was to give a chance for the ordinary man to 
make his peace and to ensure that ordinary prisoners taken in the 
fighting would receive proper treatment. In the last weeks of 
July most of the prisoners taken were disarmed and then sent back 
with copies of the proclamation to spread the news of it among the 
rebels. 1 

At the time the issue of the proclamation was very severely 
criticized by the white settler press. Tt offers pardon to those who 
are revelling in their past successes’, wrote the Bulawayo Sketch 
savagely on July 18th, ‘and still feel themselves secure in their 
fortresses. It sentences by edict those leaders who are now living in 
savage pomp, surrounded by a host of zealous followers and still 
think themselves irresistible. It threatens before it has the power to 
perform and hawks clemency to those that will have none of it.’ 
Though it was the idea of offering an amnesty at all which aroused 
settler wrath, the real weakness of the proclamation was rather its 
proscription of the only men who had the power to decide upon a 
surrender. As Grey wrote, ‘To insist upon a surrender under terms 
of the Proclamation will be accepted by the rebels as an invitation 
to the Chiefs to come out of the hills and be hung and this they 
will not do.’ As far as Rhodes was concerned the imperial attempt 
at conciliation was an obstacle rather than an assistance. 2 

His intention was to ignore the rank and file and appeal to the 

1 Correspondence relating to the issue of the proclamation is printed in 
C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, pp. 188, 214, 216, 239. 

2 Grey to Goodenough, 28 Aug. 1896, ibid., p. 495. 


leadership. It was an intention born of necessity but perhaps there 
was also a philosophical difference between his approach and that 
of Goodenough. Goodenough regarded the Ndebele leadership as 
the real criminals, who had led their followers into error. Rhodes 
admired strong leadership and had little time for weak followers. 
Stent describes his attitude at that time in a revealing way. ‘One 
class did the fighting and the other the murdering. The Matabili 
faced the rifles and the machine-guns; the Maholi and the Mashona 
killed the women and children.’ Rhodes, so Stent assures us, felt a 
proper contempt and hatred for the Shona and the Holi but had 
great sympathy ‘with that fine upstanding fighting man, the 
Matabili, with his Zulu blood and his clean military antecedents’, 
now suffering ‘as all must for the sins of their associates’. As history 
it was grotesque but as an emotion it seems to have enabled men 
like Jarvis to make his transition from total war to conditional 
peace. 1 

Because the military and settlers were hostile to any idea of 
negotiations and because of the disparity between his approach 
and that of Goodenough and Martin, Rhodes had to begin his 
attempts to make contact with the rebel leaders in some secrecy. 
He tried a variety of methods. Late in July, for instance, he ap- 
proached a brother of Lobengula who had remained ‘loyal’ and 
was living in Bulawayo, asking him to carry a message to the rebel 
commanders in the hills; the loyalist flatly refused. Attempts were 
then made to contact Sikombo by sending in two ‘friendlies’ with 
two of Sikombo’s men specially released from jail for the purpose. 
The men were never seen again. So far Rhodes had not been par- 
ticularly successful, but after the bloody stalemate of the attack on 
Sikombo’s of August 5th, a feeling in favour of negotiations began 
to spread among the military themselves, and Rhodes was able to 
work much more openly. 2 

Legend sees the story of the famous indaba to which these tenta- 
tives led up as the achievement of Rhodes alone. In fact there 
were many people involved, some of whom risked their lives 
earlier and more often than Rhodes did. But his was the moral 
courage of the idea of making peace; their physical courage was a 
commoner commodity. The chief associate of Rhodes was Johan 
Colenbrander, ex-Chief Native Commissioner of Matabeleland, 

1 Stent, op. cit. 

2 Hans Sauer, Ex Africa, 1937, chap. XIV. 


and a man well known to all the Ndebele leaders. Colenbrander’s 
lawyers were probably not much over-stating his role when they 
wrote to claim a much larger reward for his work than the 1000 
guineas which the Company in fact paid him. ‘It was mainly 
through the medium of Mr Colenbrander that your costly Mata- 
bele war was brought to an end. . . . When the crucial point 
arrived and Mr Colenbrander consented to go at peril of his life 
to initiate the “surrender” negotiations ... it would have been 
wiser of him if he had simply said: “This is a very responsible and 
dangerous business — will you please give me a cheque for £10,000 
for my wife and £10,000 for my company. Being a servant of the 
latter I have no business to risk my life at the request of Mr Cecil 
Rhodes for the benefit of the Chartered Company.” Mr Rhodes 
himself at that time consulted of course his own interests in running 
all the risks of life, etc., he did. . . . Mr Colenbrander did all the 
work and was the primary cause of the success of that meeting.’ 1 

Other important associates were the young Native Commis- 
sioners of the area, especially Richardson, Native Commissioner, 
Matopos. He was instructed on August 10th to ‘use every en- 
deavour in your power to obtain the surrender of the rebels in the 
Matopo Hills and in connection therewith the Company will give 
you a free hand in the matter’. Thereafter Richardson devoted 
himself to the task of establishing contact. Nor should we forget the 
Africans involved, the most important of whom was the scout, 
John Grootboom. 2 

But with all these associates success still eluded Rhodes in the 
first days of August. Thus on August 18th Chief Native Com- 
missioner Thomas had to report another failure. ‘Last week two 
of Colenbrander’s boys accompanied by a boy named Dick (taken 
out of gaol for the set purpose) and a son ofjobani (the priest shot 
by Burnham) arrived at Faku’s kraal where they sent Dick and 
Jobani’s son to the rebels with a message. The messengers entered 
the Matopos and saw the following indunas — Nkonkobela, Hole, 
Matisa, Godhlo — and delivered their message which they report 
to the effect that the rebels would come in and surrender their 
arms and themselves to the whites. These indunas sent the following 
reply: “Yesterday was yesterday, today is today. Why should we 

1 Witt to Canning, 8 May 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, Vol. 4. 

2 Secretary, Administrator, to Native Commissioner, Matopos, 10 Aug. 1896, 
AM 1/8/1. 


surrender? We have held our own and driven the whites back each 
time they have attacked us here. ... If the whites are tired of 
fighting they can come and surrender to us here.” ’ The messen- 
gers had had the misfortune to encounter a group of indunas who 
still supported the Mwari priesthood and its intransigent refusal 
to contemplate negotiation; Matisa especially was noted for his 
loyalty to the Mwari representatives. 1 

It was beginning to look as though Rhodes’ plan had failed and 
fighting would have to continue for the period and on the scale 
foreseen by Carrington. And then one of the peace overtures suc- 
ceeded. ‘Some little time previously’, wrote Lady Grey in what is 
the most accurate and fresh account, ‘they had discovered in a 
deserted kraal in the Matopos where they were fighting a little old 
woman left behind all alone with her cows and chickens in one of 
those natural sorts of fortresses. They carried her down to the 
camp in a skin, notwithstanding her furious indignation, and there 
discovered that she was a widow of Moselikatse . . . and the 
mother of one of the principal chiefs now in the Matopos, In- 
yanda.’ The old lady was in fact captured on August 9th; it was 
she who gave the news of the tension between the Mwari officers 
and the senior indunas ; and Rhodes at once saw that she might 
prove a valuable contact. In the instructions to Richardson of 
August 10th it was noted that ‘Mr Rhodes thinks that some use 
might be made of the old lady who claims to be mother of Inyanda. 
She is, Mr Rhodes is aware, too old to move but a message might 
be taken for her by the other women in the camp.’ 2 

Richardson went one better; the old lady had been carried 
from her kraal, she should be carried back there. Accordingly on 
August nth or 12th he took her back with an escort of friendlies 
and flying a white flag, informing a party of rebels with whom he 
made contact that she had a message for them. ‘Hearing from her 
that many of the rebels would like the war to cease,’ wrote Lady 
Grey, ‘they told her that she was to be taken back to where they 
had found her and that they would give her a white flag and that 
when her people came to visit her . . . she was to give them the 
flag and say that if they wanted to negotiate for peace they were to 
stick up the white flag as a sign. The old lady was carried back to 
her fastness and soon after both she and the white flag disappeared. 

1 C.N.C. to Grey, 18 Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/3. 

2 Lady Grey to her children, 27 Aug. 1896, GR 1/1 / 1. 



In 2 or 3 days the white flag reappeared, and upon this Mr Rhodes 
and Mr Colenbrander began to devise how to contrive com- 
munications.’ On August 14th the two men themselves went out to 
the Matopos and established their camp some distance away from 
Plumer’s column. ‘Mr Rhodes’ party having arrived . . . they 
decided on seeing the white flag returned to send messengers to 
the rebels to find out if they wished to treat and surrender. They 
therefore called for volunteers to act as envoys and eventually 4 
black men volunteered to go. They were each promised £25 by 
Mr Rhodes and he and his little party went up the kopje with 
them . . . and started them off from the white flag. When once 
they had disappeared from view I don’t think our people had 
much hope of ever seeing them again for it was thought very likely 
that they would all be killed, but lo and behold about 6 o’clock 
they all turned up again. I forgot to say that 2 rebel prisoners were 
also sent with them, one of them being an old man and the other a 
young one who was a follower of Sikombo, one of the principal 
rebels. They all came in and sat down in a row by the fire looking 
very miserable and melancholy. Not a word was said for 5 minutes 
or so. They had to possess their souls in patience without being 
able to ask questions, for natives must never be hurried or you will 
get nothing out of them. After about five minutes’ silence Mr 
Colenbrander said they might be addressed and then began a long 
palaver. They said that they had found the rebels just over the 
second ridge in great numbers all sitting watching and waiting; 
that the hills were black with them. They sent on Sikombo’s boy in 
advance and he was taken straight to the chiefs and told them 
what they had come for. The boy saw messages despatched at once 
to the other chiefs who were some distance off and who would have 
to be consulted and he was told that these chiefs would have to 
have a voice in the matter so that they must have some days in 
which to think things over and consult each other, that they were 
sick of fighting and would like to come in. . . . Sikombo’s boy was 
the one who saw the principal chiefs, the others only seeing lesser 
dignitaries. They said they had been well treated and had not been 
threatened by the young warriors so their melancholy appearance 
on arriving had quite belied them . . . Mr Rhodes and the rest 
were rather inspirited by this first attempt and waited to see what 
would follow.’ This meeting of Rhodes’ emissaries, led by John 
Grootboom, with the rebel leaders took place on August 16th. 


‘Over a thousand met our envoys,’ cabled Carrington on August 
1 8th, ‘including Sekombo and Nyanda, and heard our conditions 
of surrender. They promised reply today.’ 1 

On August 1 8th two emissaries from the rebels came in to 
Rhodes’ camp and, as Lady Grey tells us, ‘another long talk began 
over the camp fire. The whole gist of it was that they were anxious 
to leave fighting but they must consult each other and that they 
wasted time and that they were afraid of coming in while the big 
impi was so near; that a great deal of the trouble had been caused 
by the Matabele native police who had misused their authority 
and been unjust often, etc. etc., and that they must have time. Mr 
Rhodes gave them three days for consultation and said that they 
must make up their minds in that time whether it was to be peace 
or war. Then they departed and another period of waiting began.’ 2 

The waiting ended on August 2ist when Rhodes’ messengers 
returned to tell him that the rebel chiefs were ready to meet him 
and a few companions. Umlugulu, Sikombo, Babyaan, Soma- 
bulana, Dhliso, Nyanda, together with some 36 other indunas , had 
assembled in the hills to discuss peace. Colenbrander told Rhodes 
that only four white men could go; ‘and that they must all four 
close up and ride together even . . . for fear of the rebels imagining 
that there might be small parties of 2 following each other’. 
Rhodes went of course; Colenbrander also. The other two invited 
were Dr Hans Sauer, an old business associate of Rhodes’ and the 
correspondent of The Times, De Vere Stent. 

‘It was a lovely winter’s day,’ wrote Stent later, ‘the sun just 
beginning to western; comfortably hot; the grasses, bronze and 
golden, swaying in the slight wind; the hills ahead of us blurred in 
the quivering image of the early afternoon. The track debouched 
into a tiny basin, rimmed by kopjes and floored by fallow. In the 
centre of the fallow lay some tree stumps and the remnants of a 
big ant heap.’ They dismounted, Stent and Sauer with some trep- 
idation, and waited for the Ndebele to show the white flag and to 
appear at the rendezvous. ‘A second or so later they did. The folds 
of the great stretch of calico showed dead white against the ever- 
green shrubs that fringed the granite kopjes ... at the same time a 

1 Lady Grey, ibid; Daily News , 13 Aug. 1896; The Times, 15 Aug. 1896; 
Jarvis to his mother, 13 Aug. 1896, JA 4/1 /i ; Carrington to Goodenough, 18 
Aug. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, p. 464. 

2 C.S.O. to High Commissioner, 19 Aug. 1896, ibid., p. 465. 


VII Two contemporary impressions of the white attack on African 
food supplies after the relief of Bulawayo. The first [above) shows 
Spreckley’s column joining Colonel Napier’s laager on the Shangani 
with captured cattle; the second [below) shows the demolition and 
looting of a kopje kraal by the Mounted Infantry. 

W Kc,r is |-h>-eoJ-on«d ! ^witoouf blotne to toe G «nero.l j Rkodeslo. demoruj^, cckaKgohorv.f .f toy to« rodo'f 

VIII White Rhodesian reactions to Rhodes’ negotiations with the 
Ndebele are shown in these cartoons from the Bulawayo Sketch of 
August 22nd and September 12th, 1896. In the first [above) General 
Carrington is seen embracing an Ndebele murderer in contrast to the 
castigation demanded by Rhodesians. In the second (below) Rhodes’ 
indaba with the Ndebele is contrasted with the arrest and shooting of 

Makoni in Mashonaland. 



number of dark forms could be seen gathering around it. Slowly a 
little procession formed, headed by the flag, and came towards us. 
The wonderful smile broke out on Rhodes’ face as he said, “Yes, 
Yes, there they are. This is one of those moments in life that make 
it worth living. Here they come!” . . . The tableau was as unique 
as it was impressive. The four white men, seated upon the remains 
of the ant-heap, dominated the foreground. Rhodes — the central 
figure. To his left, Colenbrander, interpreting and advising. To his 
right, Sauer and myself, spectators, silent. Below us the demilune 
of natives, in the centre of which sat the high chiefs — the com- 
moners squatted on their haunches. Most of them were mat 
bearers and attendants upon the five or six important indunas who 
took part in the discussion.’ ‘Is it peace?’ asked Rhodes. ‘It is 
peace, my father,’ answered Somabulana, ‘but we would speak 
with you.’ The indaba had begun. 

In his enthusiastic report to Grey later that day Hans Sauer 
claimed that the indunas had offered Rhodes ‘practically uncon- 
ditional surrender’. This was certainly not the case. From the 
beginning— with Somabulana’s ‘but’ — the indaba took the form of 
negotiation rather than submission. The Ndebele leaders seized 
the opportunity to recite the wrongs of the nation, Somabulana in 
the great oration already cited, Sikombo and Babyaan dominating 
the long first part of the discussions. Rhodes heard of the misdeeds 
of the Native Commissioner, the Ndebele Police, the first Magistrate 
of Bulawayo, Heyman; heard how cattle and land had been seized, 
how the indunas had been treated like ‘dogs’, how women and 
children, even, had been shot. ‘The natives’, wrote Stent, ‘seemed 
to be having it a little too much their own way. Somabulana, 
clever advocate that he was, was putting us in the wrong. We were 
not accepting a surrender. It began to look very much as if we 
were making terms.’ 

We have seen that the defects of Company administration of 
which the indunas now so bitterly complained were in fact very 
much due to Rhodes himself, to his sense of priorities, to his 
choice of men, to his tolerance of the rough and ready method. 
But now, as he at long last did what Dr Waterston had urged him 
to do and tried to enter imaginatively into the Ndebele situation, 
he was able to demonstrate, and even to feel, surprised shock at the 
particular allegations made. He had not, after all, willed that these 
things should happen; he had merely not considered African 


opinion worth bothering about after 1893. Now the Ndebele had 
shown, in the rebellion and in their defence of the Matopos, that 
they were very much worth bothering about. Alert to them for the 
first time Rhodes began to feel out how he could ‘square’ the 
senior indunas. 

At this first indaba, even while insisting that the matter to be 
discussed was peace and not grievances, he made some significant 
concessions. There was the explicit promise to disband the Ndebele 
Police; there was the clearly implied promise to reform adminis- 
tration and the pledge that he himself would stay on in Rhodesia 
to do it. The abuses they complained of, said Rhodes, were ‘past 
and done with. Such things will not happen again.’ And Stent 
makes it clear, in his account of the Ndebele reaction, that these 
promises were taken as such. ‘Rhodes was on their side. He was 
not going to defend the cattle collectors. There was to be a fresh 
start.’ Most importantly of all, however, Rhodes also pledged the 
personal security of the senior indunas , proscribed though they were 
under the terms of the Proclamation. Nearly a year later Rhodes, 
who had hitherto maintained that the future of the indunas had not 
been discussed, gave an account of the guarantee given ‘at my first 
meeting with the Matabele’. ‘I myself considered’, he wrote, ‘that 
any Chief who ordered any individual murder was equally guilty 
with the man who actually committed the crime and would not be 
exempted from punishment’; however ‘proof of a general instruction 
to wipe out the whites must not render the chiefs liable to be tried 
for murder’. The distinction was an important one for the Ndebele 
leaders in the Matopos, none of whom were in the event put on 
trial. 1 

These leaders felt at the end of the first indaba that enough had 
been gained to justify continuing negotiations; they assured Rhodes 
of their desire to surrender; and asked for time to consult the 
leaders of other sections of the nation. Rhodes and his party rode 
home elated. ‘I have been sitting with the rebel chiefs in the hills 
for about four hours,’ wrote Rhodes to Grey, ‘and the war is over 
as far as this part is concerned.’ As for Sauer and Stent they rushed 
off to wire instructions to their agents ‘to buy Chartered’. 2 

It will be seen that Rhodes was being somewhat disingenuous 

1 Rhodes to Secretary, B.S.A.C., Cape Town, 24 June 1897; Grey to Milner, 
2 July 1897, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 522, enclosures No. 4 and 8 in No. 61. 

2 Rhodes to Grey, 21 Aug. 1896, AM 1/2/1. 


when he assured Sir Richard Martin a few days later that ‘trans- 
actions with rebel chiefs are taking the form of nothing more than 
preliminary negotiations. He is confident that they will ultimately 
submit in terms of the Proclamation. He has given no under- 
taking or promise to the chiefs of any kind. In his first interview 
Mr Rhodes did not deal with the question of the chiefs’ personal 
treatment in case of surrender.’ And as the negotiations continued 
so more undertakings and promises were given. Individual indunas 
who came into Rhodes’ camp after August 21st — and there were a 
stream of them — were given individual assurances. And at the 
second indaba on August 28th Rhodes found himself forced to give 
further general pledges. 1 

This indaba was, indeed, a much stormier affair than the first and 
more famous meeting. It was attended not only by the senior in- 
dunas but also by representatives of the party that wanted to con- 
tinue fighting — ‘the Mlimo’s headmen’ and the younger warriors. 
‘It was remarked by one who was present at both indabas\ recorded 
the Morning Post on October 12th, ‘that he felt much more nervous 
and uncomfortable through the second of these than at the first. 
Indeed, had it not been for the personal influence of Dhliso there 
might have been trouble. The rebels could be seen on the neigh- 
bouring kopjes in considerable numbers and all seemed to carry 
rifles while many had well filled bandoliers. ... In one of the lulls 
in the conversation an old induna exclaimed, “the happiest man 
in the country is the man who is dead for at least he died fighting 
for his country”.’ 

Dhliso and Babyaan began as spokesmen, once again enumer- 
ating the grievances of the nation as at the first indaba. This time, 
however, they ‘were continually interrupted by the younger 
men’. The younger element found a spokesman in Lobengula’s 
secretary, Karl Kumalo, who had been arrested in Bulawayo at 
the beginning of the rising; convicted of intent to rebel on no other 
ground, he maintained, than that he was ‘an educated native’; 
shot through the head ‘while attempting to escape’ and left for 
dead. Kumalo’s ‘resurrection’, as the white press called it, was 
decidedly inconvenient; not only was he animated by bitter per- 
sonal grievance but he also showed disconcerting knowledge of the 
political situation among the whites and of Sir Richard Martin’s 

1 Martin to Goodenough, 27 Aug. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, p. 493; 
The Times, 9 Sept. 1896. 


intention to hold an inquiry into the past administration of 
Rhodesia. Kumalo, however, was a less typical spokesman of the 
intransigents than the young induna whose exchanges with Rhodes 
are recorded by Stent. ‘There was a movement among the natives 
and a young chief who might best be described as insolent to the 
elders of his own tribe and particularly so to the white men put in a 
pertinent question. “Where are we to live when it is over?” he 
said. “The white man claims all the land.” Rhodes replied at 
once, “We will give you settlements. We will set apart locations 
for you; we will give you land.” The young chief shouted angrily, 
“You will give us land in our own country! That’s good of you!” ’ 
Rhodes then objected to talking to the young chief while he still 
had his rifle in his hand; the young chief said, ‘You will have to 
talk to me with my rifle in my hand. I find if I talk with my rifle in 
my hand the white man pays more attention to what I say. Once 
I put my rifle down I am nothing. I am just a dog to be kicked.’ 
Rhodes rose to the challenge to his negotiating skill. ‘Rhodes 
actually left the European side of the indaba and, crossing over to 
the rebels, as it were, sat with them, seeming to speak for them.’ 
Some of the demands expressed clearly had to be rejected out of 
hand. ‘One induna made a virulent attack on the friendly chief, 
Faku, and demanded his removal from the country. Mr Rhodes 
refused to comply with this demand and went on to defend Faku’s 
conduct. His remarks occasioned an angry demonstration among 
the young Matabele, but Dhliso succeeded in calming them.’ But 
other demands could be met. Kumalo, so Stent tells us, was 
‘squared’ by ‘a dip into the wonderful leather bag in which it was 
the habit of . . . [Rhodes’ secretary] ... to carry a considerable 
sum in hard cash’. On the key land issue Rhodes promised, as 
we have seen, to make an adequate land settlement; later he went 
further. In September the senior indunas followed up the question 
raised by the young firebrand. ‘The Chiefs said the Matabele 
wanted to come out of the hills but the question of where they were 
to settle presented a difficulty. Somabulana, Secombo and Dhliso 
. . . wanted to settle on the gardens occupied by them in Loben- 
gula’s time. Mr Rhodes replied that it could be arranged.’ 

As this example shows the senior indunas of the Umlugulu faction 
were shrewd negotiators themselves. Though they used their in- 
fluence to calm down the young men it was much in their interests 
for the whites to be aware that there was a continued readiness to 


fight among the Ndebele and they presented themselves to Rhodes 
and Colenbrander as the indispensable intermediaries through 
whom alone peace could be achieved. Moreover they were quick 
to follow up any advantage won by the more intransigent party in 
debate. Thus Babyaan, at this second indaba, ‘after inveighing for 
some time against the treatment of the Matabele’, picked up Karl 
Kumalo’s point. ‘He had heard that an induna from the white 
queen had come into the country to conduct an inquiry. The news 
had made him glad because he was sure the truth would now be 
heard.’ He and the other leaders now demanded that the ‘queen’s 
induna’ should attend the next indaba. An accommodation be- 
tween Rhodes and Babyaan and his colleagues, it was being subtly 
suggested, was necessary not only to achieve peace but also to 
avert the worst consequences of an imperial inquiry into Company 
administration. It is interesting to note that the hint was taken; 
in October 1896 the senior indunas were so satisfied with the 
terms that they had achieved that Colenbrander was able to in- 
form the Colonial Office that he was prepared to bring a delegation 
of them over to London to testify to their support of the new system 
of native administration and of continuing Company rule. 1 

Meanwhile, outside the small circle of the negotiators, there was 
almost universal white dismay. Members of Rhodes’ personal fac- 
tion were able to take the sudden change from war to peace in 
their stride — ‘Rhodes is a marvellous man’, wrote Jarvis on August 
25th, ‘and brought off this Indaba with the Chiefs splendidly. It 
was an extraordinarily plucky thing for him to do’ — but settlers 
and soldiers were disconcerted and suspicious. ‘The authorities 
refuse to give particulars of the conditions arranged with the 
Matopo rebels’, it was reported late in August, ‘and all sorts of 
rumours are in circulation’; it was said that the loyalist chief 
Gambo and the scout John Grootboom had both warned that the 
rebels were insincere in the negotiations. ‘Rhodesia demands a 
little more than peace,’ cried the Bulawayo Sketch ; ‘they demand 
justice. . . . Let it not be said that all this noble blood has been 
spilt without meeting the reward that has been the great incentive 
to volunteering— punishment for the dastardly crimes committed. 
Imagine the disgust of a man who has jeopardized his life daily for 

1 For this account of the second indaba I have drawn upon Stent, op. cit; The 
Times, 31 Aug. and iq Sept; Colenbrander to Colonial Office, 30 Oct. 1806, 
CO., CP., S.A., No. 517, pp. 330-1. 


a purpose, seen his friends fall around him, and then learnt that the 
foe he was bent on punishing had been petted and encouraged. 
. . . They deserve no consideration as patriots . . . their grievances 
bear no comparison with the cowardly un-Zulu-like outrages they 
have committed. As is surmised, rinderpest had little to do with it; 
the Rising was the execution of a deeply laid scheme planned by 
the leaders such as Umlugulu and Sekombo and the murders a 
deliberate determination to fiendish cruelty.’ 1 

Nor did the published defences of the negotiations do much to 
pacify this indignation since they all admitted that the Ndebele 
had not been fully defeated. Tt is easy to imagine how hard a task 
it must have been for Mr Rhodes to treat for peace with armed and 
unsubdued rebels,’ wrote John X. Merriman to the South African 
Telegraph on August 28th. ‘By so doing he has, at the cost of his own 
natural feelings, averted the chance of a great disaster to South 
Africa. Few recognize how critical the position in Matabeleland 
has become, with the handful of white men in a vast country, with 
rinderpest and famine all around, and with the rainy season draw- 
ing near. Time in these matters is on the side of civilization and the 
white man and it is just this precious gain that has been secured by 
Mr Rhodes’ negotiations. I would take leave to remind his critics 
that ... [it is not] . . . the first time that an inconclusive native 
war has terminated by a peace, but in the long run the white man 
has gone forward.’ 

Even less palatable to settlers was De Vere Stent’s advocacy of 
the negotiations. Tt would perhaps have been more dramatic to 
have made Somabulana degrade and abase himself as did King 
Prempeh,’ he wrote to the Cape Times in October, ‘but it would 
have cost hundreds of lives, both white and black. Then, again, we 
have not all the right on our side. The native administration in 
Matabeleland has been rotten and corrupt to the core. ... A few 
weeks more fighting would have turned these men into banditti 
whose hand would have been turned against every white man and 
Rhodesia would have known no peace for years to come.’ 

Nor was discontent limited to the whites of Rhodesia. It was 
fully shared by the representatives of that very imperial govern- 
ment which in 1893 had been so suspicious of the alliance between 
Rhodes and the settlers and so anxious to negotiate itself with the 

1 The Times, 20 Aug. 1896; Bulawayo Sketch, 22 Aug. and 29 Aug. 1896; 
Jarvis to his mother, 25 Aug. 1896, JA 4/1 /i. 


Ndebelc leaders. Circumstances had now changed greatly; the 
only constant was that once again the imperial authorities found 
themselves presented by Rhodes with a fait accompli. 

The most important of those who found Rhodes’ proceedings 
difficult to stomach in 1896 was Sir Richard Martin, imperial 
Deputy-Commissioner. This was partly because he had been 
entrusted with the duty of making peace and imposing surrender 
conditions and yet had not been informed of Rhodes’ intentions to 
meet the rebels on August 21st. But he had more solid reasons 
which are best set out in an elaborate protest recorded by him 
after the second indaba. He desired just administration after com- 
plete conquest and aimed to balance the essential interests of black 
and white ‘small men’. He feared that in the indabas the ‘big men’ 
were coming to terms at the expense of their followers and that 
neither severity nor justice would be assured. ‘On August 22nd 
Mr Rhodes reported a most successful meeting with the rebels in 
the Matopos’, he wrote, ‘and declared the war over as far as that 
part was concerned. However, at a subsequent meeting on August 
28th, judging from the report of Mr Stent ... I conclude that the 
attitude of the Chiefs was by no means one of decided submission 
but took the form rather of self defence. On August 31st Mr Rhodes 
sent me a message saying he did not think it would be wise just at 
present to send to the rebels to come to another meeting; they 
would interpret a kind of weakness. From this I gather Mr Rhodes 
was not satisfied that the Chiefs and people had shown that spirit 
of submission which, having a view to permanent tranquillity in 
the future, it is essential that a defeated native race should show to 
their white conquerors; that negotiations appear to me from in- 
formation received to have been rather of a conciliating than 
dictating character and though this policy may appear expedient 
to the Government of the country for the time being, it can only 
have one effect on the native mind, namely, to exaggerate their 
strength and our weakness.’ Martin declared himself ‘entirely 
opposed to the manner in which the present negotiations were 
being conducted’; denouncing them as inconsistent with the terms 
of the Proclamation, as unworthy of the dignity of the Queen’s 
Government — ‘native customs demand that the lesser chief should 
come to meet the greater’, and as likely to produce constant 
trouble in the future. Martin’s own view was that ‘none of the 
principal Chiefs in the Matopos should be allowed to escape trial, 


as their strength and influence is acknowledged by all, and they 
appear to have been either instigators in rebellion or implicated in 
murders’. 1 

Martin, backed by Acting High Commissioner Goodenough, 
proposed to assume control of the negotiations; to present the 
Ndebele indunas with a formal warning that they would be put on 
trial but might thereafter be pardoned; and to demand an un- 
conditional surrender and giving up of arms within a few days. 
‘The message I propose to send to the Chiefs’, he wrote, ‘amounts 
to an ultimatum and from what Mr Rhodes says will, I think, stop 
his further negotiations.’ ‘That consummate ass, Sir Richard 
Martin,’ wrote Jarvis, ‘will try his best to upset everything and 
prolong hostilities.’ 2 Prospects of stopping Rhodes from further 
negotiations — even ‘provisional’ ones — seemed much better than 
in 1893. 

Martin at this moment enjoyed the support of the great major- 
ity of whites in Southern Rhodesia; his formal position was 
unassailable under the terms of the instructions issued to him by 
the Colonial Secretary; he was possessed with a conviction that 
Rhodes was out to save the Chartered Company’s skin no matter 
what happened thereafter to the settlers — or to the Africans for 
that matter. But even in his strange alliance with the settlers he 
was no match for Rhodes. Rhodes had a keen sense of the likely 
reactions of Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary. He did 
not respect him— ‘Chamberlain has been too weak for words’, 
wrote Jarvis from Inyati on the march to Taba Zi Ka Mambo. ‘As 
Rhodes truly says, “I thought he was a strong man but after all 
you cannot expect much out of Birmingham workshops.” He has 
allowed himself to be scared off at every point when he had the 
ball at his feet.’ But he knew that Chamberlain was in a difficult 
position between the philanthropists on the one hand and the fact 
of Rhodes’ knowledge of the extent of his involvement in the 
events that led up to the Jameson Raid on the other. Rhodes 
knew that Chamberlain was prepared to let the Company main- 
tain its jurisdiction in Rhodesia if it was at all possible in return for 
silence about the ramifications of the Jameson Raid. He knew also 
that the Colonial Secretary would find it difficult, if not impossible, 

1 Martin to Goodenough, 1 Sept. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, pp. 520-1. 

2 Martin to Goodenough, 27 Aug. 1896, ibid., p. 493; Jarvis to his mother, 
27 Aug. 1896, JA4/1/1. 



to over-rule his negotiations because of objections that they were 
too merciful to the Ndebele. It was for this reason that he had 
chosen Stent to accompany the party to the first indaba; in addition 
to his vivid gifts as a journalist Stent had a reputation as a 
humanitarian, had criticized the treatment of the Ndebele in 
1893 and was now prepared to make amends by defending the 
negotiations on humanitarian and progressive grounds. 1 

These calculations turned out to be correct. ‘If as I gather’, 
Chamberlain cabled to Goodenough on August 26th, ‘Grey and 
Rhodes lean to clemency Martin and Carrington should work 
cordially with former. . . . Martin’s powers, you will understand, 
were given to him in order to enable him to restrain tendency to 
harshness.’ ‘There would be great difficulty’, he cabled on the 
27 th, ‘in defending an attitude of less leniency than that advocated 
by representatives of the British South Africa Company.’ And on 
September 4th he cut through Martin’s continued objections. ‘I 
am in favour of accepting the views of Lord Grey with regard to 
exercising clemency towards rebel chiefs in making terms with 
them,’ he cabled. ‘I am prepared to agree to ring-leaders, men- 
tioned in the Proclamation being promised their lives, and, if 
necessary, exempted from trial should the negotiations require it. 
Even in the case of those implicated in murders I should be willing 
to adopt the same course if it is considered to be required.’ 2 

Since Chamberlain also expressed the view that there was no 
reason why Rhodes should not continue to conduct negotiations, 
with Martin’s advice, and that the opinions of Lord Grey should 
be given great weight, Martin found himself obliged to abandon 
his plan for an ultimatum. Indeed, he found himself agreeing to 
appear with Rhodes and Grey at a third indaba at which formal 
royal approval of the previous negotiations would be expressed. 
Once again we owe our most vivid record of the third indaba , held 
on September 9th, to Lady Grey. ‘Yesterday was a very interesting 
and rather an exciting day,’ she wrote on September 10th, ‘for we 
went to a real indaba with the rebels about 5 or 6 miles off in the 
Matopos Hills, where they were to have clearly explained to them 
the terms on which their surrender would be accepted if they truly 
wish for the end of the war and peace, i.e. that they must give up 

1 Jarvis to his mother, July 1896, ibid. 

2 Chamberlain to Goodenough, 26 Aug., 27 Aug., and 4 Sept. 1896, C.O., 
C.P., S.A., No. 520, p. 402, p. 403, p. 427. 


their arms and come out of the Matopos and go to their kraals and 
dig and sow as usual and then those that have taken part in the 
rebellion without any connection with murder committed in cold 
blood shall be freely pardoned, while those who did take part in 
the murders must stand their trial and receive punishment. . . . 
We had brought some of the camp chairs with us so that we might 
sit with the more dignity and had the honour at the indaba of 
sitting in the posh row. . . . His Honour the Administrator in the 
middle, to his right Sir Richard Martin, and to his left Mr Rhodes 
. . . the rebel chiefs squatted on the ground immediately in front, 
a compact little body; there were 44 of them not counting a few 
friendlies who had come too. We had to wait some time after we 
arrived and took up position before they appeared and mean- 
while we all ate our luncheon. Then with glasses we saw them 
descending a kopje about a mile away in front of us. They were 
being brought to us by a Mr Armstrong and a Mr Fynn, 2 young 
Native Commissioners, who had gone in to fetch them.’ After 
some difficulty, created by the sight of Martin’s cavalry escort and 
the Union Jack standard which he had erected, the indunas were 
persuaded to approach and the indaba began. 1 

Rhodes began the proceedings by introducing Grey and Martin 
to the indunas , amongst whom were Umlugulu, Babyaan, Sikombo, 
Dhliso, Somabulana. Grey then told the Ndebele that ‘Her 
Majesty approves words already spoken to them at two previous 
indab as\ and continued to spell out the demand for the surrender 
of arms and the surrender of murderers. Martin then spoke, doing 
his best to give a new tone to the proceedings. ‘I expressed regret at 
seeing Chiefs and people before me under present conditions. I 
said when I left England Her Majesty the Queen was under the 
impression natives and whites were living together in harmony. I 
pointed out how they had burnt houses and killed women and 
children without mercy and could not understand how they had 
dared to commit such acts if they realized government of the 
country was under Her Majesty the Queen. Government sur- 
prised at such a man as Babyaan, who had been to England and 
seen power of Queen, not realizing the hopelessness of such a war, 
and imagining for a moment that the Queen would allow such 
acts to go unpunished. However, the Queen, in her mercy, will 
even now pardon those who have killed her people in fair fight, 

1 Lady Grey to her children, 10 Sept. 1896, GR 1/1/1. 


and even the Chiefs who led impis in fight; but she, in her justice, 
says those who have committed murder must suffer. It is not the 
time to discuss grievances, but to make known the terms on which 
the rebels can surrender.’ 1 

Rhodes must have been glad when this meeting, so different 
from the two earlier indabas, was safely over. The indunas had had 
no chance to recite the grievances of the nation but had had to sit 
and listen to Martin lecture them with as good a grace as they 
could manage. Still, all previous promises had been confirmed — 
even if Martin had very little idea what those were. Above all the 
promise of personal amnesty had been repeated and as Lady Grey 
wrote, ‘there was no great fear for this lot in the thought of sur- 
render for you see they have been promised a pardon for their 
rebellion provided none of them individually took part in or in- 
stigated any of the real murders, and as none of them in this dis- 
trict did commit any murders, as long as they put over their guns 
they have nothing to fear if they can only be convinced of this’. 
Grey himself thought that the meeting had been very successful. 
Martin remained totally unconvinced. ‘I cannot say I considered 
the tone of the meeting satisfactory. The Chiefs did not salute and 
at times showed a decidedly impertinent air, and spoke as though 
they had as much right to demand the withdrawal of troops 
which they complained were in their gardens, as we had to call 
them to lay down their arms. I am still of the opinion that this is a 
cunning device on the part of the rebels and if the troops were 
withdrawn I think they would still remain in the hills and be still 
less inclined to give up their arms.’ 2 

Nothing now remained to complete Rhodes’ design and to com- 
plete the discomfiture of Martin save the actual surrenders and the 
bringing in of guns. There followed a period of agonizing sus- 
pense. ‘The surrender is a very ticklish business,’ wrote Lady Vic- 
toria Grey on September 14th. ‘Of course they have not yet really 
done so. At each fresh indaba the chiefs say they must have time to 
collect their people before they come out of the hills and as long as 
they remain in the Matopos and do not deliver up their arms the 
imperial military authorities will not pay any attention to these 

1 Martin to Rosmead, 10 Sept. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, p. 446. 

2 Lady Grey to her children, op. cit; Martin to Goodenough, 13 Sept. 1896, 
C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, pp. 574-5; verbatim account of the indaba of 9 
Sept, 1896, ibid., pp. 575-7. 


negotiations but carry on their own tactics as if no surrender was 
being contemplated and as if they were going to fight on all 
through the wet season. This annoys Daddy very much as the 
important thing now is to give the natives confidence and not to 
frighten them by any more attacks. . . . They said at the indaba , 
“If you remove the white impis we will come out and go to our 
gardens.” The general, on the other hand, says, “Until they have 
come out and gone to their gardens and delivered up their arms 
my men shall not budge an inch.” So proceedings are rather at a 
standstill at present.’ Carrington sat down to make a list of the 
additional men and equipment he would need when fighting 
began again in 1897; Martin gave interviews to the press in which 
he admitted with gloomy relish that the rebels Tad shown no 
sign of any intention’ to give up arms and that £ he could not say 
what steps would be taken in the event of their persisting in their 
refusal’. Rhodes, waiting in his camp in the Matopos, feared that 
the Mwari representatives had won the upper hand after all; he 
remembered that on September 9th the ‘Mlimo’s mouthpiece’ had 
turned up to the indaba arrogantly wearing the coat of a murdered 
white. 1 

We get a picture of the tensions of September from the first 
reports home of William Henry Milton, the man recruited by 
Rhodes to reform the Rhodesian administrative service. On Sep- 
tember 1 8th Milton wrote: ‘Things here are very mixed and until 
today no one knew what would result — Peace or War. Earl Grey 
however came in this morning and told me at once that the news is 
distinctly good. The 2 principal rebels in the Matopos have sent to 
C. J. Rhodes to say they are surrendering to him today and it is 
certain that their followers will come out so I hope that matter is 
settled. Rhodes, Grey, Carrington and a few titled under-strappers 
are all talking at once in the next room . . . Rhodes is in town 
today for the first time since beginning of August and is trying to 
induce Carrington to clear out with his troops.’ With this idea 
Milton was in full sympathy, adding the dislike of the born civil 
servant for military display and extravagance to the other Com- 
pany motives for getting the imperial forces out of Rhodesia. 
‘Everything official here’, he wrote, ‘is in an absolutely rotten con- 
dition and will continue so until we can clear out the Honourable 

1 Victoria Grey to Charles Grey, 14 Sept. 1896, GR 1/1/1; The Times, 17 
Sept. 1896. 


and military elements which are rampant everywhere. ... If we 
can only induce the natives to surrender and disarm and get rid of 
Carrington everything will go ahead.’ 1 

The tension was beginning to tell on Rhodes and Grey; to their 
pleas for an immediate reduction of the imperial forces on grounds 
of approaching famine, the answer came stolidly back that nothing 
could be done until the African surrender had been made a reality. 
On September 18th Grey reported that Rhodes had at last taken 
the step urged earlier by Martin and delivered an ultimatum; 
through Babyaan and Dhliso he had informed ‘the minor indunas ’ 
that unless they surrendered quickly fighting would begin. Whether 
because of this or whether because the senior indunas had learnt of 
the Company’s intentions to institute a new structure of African 
administration in which as salaried and recognized officials they 
were to have a part, the long African deliberations drew suddenly 
to an end. On September 21st Rhodes wrote jubilantly from his 
camp: ‘Things are looking really bright. Babyaan is still with me. 
Dhliso went to Plumer this morning and from there to fetch his 
wives. Finally the man we considered would fight to the last, 
namely Unthwani, the man who wore Fynn’s coat at the last 
indaba , is here and sleeps here tonight. You must remember that 
Unthwani is the Mlimo’s mouthpiece and it speaks volumes that 
he should have come out. . . . We may say the matter is over as far 
as these hills are concerned; but I shall not move until Babyaan 
and Dhliso are at their kraals for fear of some misunderstanding.’ 
Shortly after reports came in that Sikombo and Somabulana were 
at Colenbrander’s camp. Peace had become a reality. 2 

Rhodes and Grey moved quickly to cement their good relations 
with the senior indunas. On October 13th the fourth indaba was 
held, attended by all the rebel leaders and also by the most im- 
portant of the loyalists. ‘They were asked to state their grievances,’ 
wrote Grey, ‘assurances being given to them that they would be 
carefully considered and if proved to be well founded would be 
removed. Their chief grievance was that they were as sheep with- 
out a herd and had no one to whom they could go for advice and 
guidance. They were informed that it is the intention of the govern- 
ment to make those indunas who can satisfy the government that 
they are worthy of trust salaried headmen.’ The loyalists Gambo, 

1 Milton to his wife, 18 Sept. 1896, ML 1 / 1 /2. 

2 Rhodes to Grey, 21 Sept. 1896, BA 2/1/1; The Times, 23 Sept. 1896. 


Faku and Mjaan were at once made salaried indunas; the rebels 
Sikombo, Somabulana and Dhliso were given horses to enable 
them to collect their people together and told that if they proved 
trustworthy they would also be recognized as official heads of one 
of the twelve districts into which Matabeleland was now to be 
divided. 1 

As might have been expected, these conversions of proscribed 
rebels into rewarded and recognized authorities was received with 
fury by the whites of Bulawayo. ‘Sekombo has licked the ground 
and the promise of horses has been received with acclamation but 
these little civilities, however interesting as illustrating high life in 
the Matopos, is not yet consummation of peace and does not neces- 
sarily mean pacification,’ thundered the Bulawayo Sketch on Octo- 
ber 1 7th. ‘The iron hand must now be felt beneath its glove cover- 
ing.’ On October 24th it greeted the recent visit of the rebel 
leaders to Bulawayo with ferocious irony. ‘Among the fashionable 
arrivals of this week we have the honour to record that of the 
Rebel Chiefs, looking none the worse for wear after their arduous 
labours in the Matopos. At an interview kindly vouchsafed by 
them they report with becoming modesty that they consider good 
work has been done. Sekombo, who looks fit for anything (and 
doesn’t belie his looks) reckons that they have done more to settle 
the native question in a few months than the Government would 
have done in five years. He intends taking a little rest after his 
labours and with his friends spend a short vacation in the plains. 
Horses and topboots have been supplied to them by their ad- 
mirers so that they can get about a little quicker and without fear 
of hurting their feet which have become slightly chafed from climb- 
ing over and under the rugged boulders of the late scene of their 
labours.’ In this way was the work of Rhodes, which later genera- 
tions have agreed to accept as his crowning achievement, received 
initially by the settlers of Rhodesia. 

Yet in the irony of the Sketch there was an element of truth. 
Looked at in one light the Ndebele rebellion and the negotiations 
which ended it had done more ‘to settle the native question’ than 
the preceding years of Company rule. After 1893 the Ndebele 
leaders had become ‘non-persons’; they were never consulted 
about their people; the institutions of the Ndebele state were 

1 Grey to Rosmead, 13 Oct. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., p. 640; verbatim report 
of the indaba, ibid., pp. 692-3. 


either destroyed or ignored. The new era initiated by the series of 
indabas of 1896 — which were followed by an even more elaborate 
wooing of the indunas in 1897 — was ver Y different. Grey described 
the new policy as ‘restoring as far as we can to the indunas the 
authority which they had in Lobengula’s time and which since his 
overthrow they have lacked’. What were to be the full implica- 
tions of this policy — slightly re-worded by the Pall Mall Gazette to, 
‘the indunas are to get back all of their authority of Lobengula’s 
time that is compatible with white supremacy’ — remained to be 
seen. But at the end of 1896 it might have been claimed that the 
rebellion had been far from futile. The Ndebele nation had come 
into official existence once more; promises had been received 
about the redress of grievances; many of the Ndebele were back 
at their old homes for the first time since 1893. 1 

This view of the peace negotiations was no more taken by the 
intransigents of the north-east than it was by the settlers of Bula- 
wayo. Mkwati, Mtini, Mpotshwana and other leaders of the old 
north-east faction totally rejected all surrender overtures and took 
stringent steps to see that their followers did not respond to them 
either. After his flight from Taba Zi Ka Mambo, Mkwati gathered 
his followers around him in the Somabula forest which now be- 
came the country of the new order. ‘The Mlimo is in the Somabula 
forest’, testified Malima, ‘and has told the natives that the Shan- 
gani river is the boundary between the whites and him, a boun- 
dary which the whites will not cross and that they can live there 
without fear.’ The pause in military operations which followed 
the beginning of the Matopos negotiations appeared to justify this 
promise; the whites waited for Mkwati’s following to surrender 
but very few surrenders came. 2 

Gradually a very interesting picture emerged from the reports 
of prisoners and spies. While the leaders of the old Ndebele nation 
in the Matopos were seeking the best terms for it through nego- 
tiation Mkwati was using his Shona support to prevent Ndebele 
surrenders in the Somabula area. On August 3rd, for instance, 
Native Commissioner Gielgud wrote to say that the hard core of 
Mkwati’s force consisted of the Jingen regiment under Nkomo, 
Mtini’s people, and the followers of the Shona commander, 

1 Grey to Hawksley, 16 Oct. 1896, G.O., G.P., S.A., No. 517, pp. 200-4.: 
Pall Mall Gazette, 28 Nov. 1896. 

2 Malima’s evidence, 1 Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/2. 


Makumbi. The local MaHoli were also ‘armed and declared they 
will fight for the Mlimo’. ‘My informant further says that the 
Mlimo has instituted a “police force” of his own and is doing his 
utmost to prevent the Matabele coming to in surrender. Any 
messenger found with a pass unless he goes straight to the Mlimo 
with it is killed; any people speaking of the Mlimo as a fraud are 
dealt with in like manner. I have here an umfaan who managed to 
escape when his people were killed by an impi acting under the 
orders of Incomo because the head-man, named Somapunga, 
talked of going in to surrender. In other cases people who are 
suspected of disloyalty to the Mlimo are surprised by the “Police” 
and disarmed, their guns, etc., being given to the Maholi who have 
declared heart and soul for the Mlimo.’ On August 6th he wrote 
again: ‘The Mlimo has instructed the Maholes to kill all Matabele 
they may find returning to the white people or carrying messages 
calling on the people to surrender.’ On the ioth Native Com- 
missioner Fynn reported the same situation from his district. ‘From 
what I can gather from the natives that the Makalakas are the 
strongest today in that district and prevent the Matabeles from 
coming to surrender.’ In his view once the news of the surrender 
negotiations reached them the Ndebele would ‘break away from 
this band of Makalakas’. 1 

This determined struggle against any attempt to ‘betray the 
revolution’ continued for several months, though increasingly as a 
desperate rear-guard action. On September 14th The Times re- 
ported that an ex-teacher from the Inyati mission had managed to 
escape from the Shangani district. ‘He says that the rebels cannot 
retire northwards even if they wished to do so. They are entirely 
under the influence of Mkwati, the Mlimo’s prophet, who has 
posted pickets of his staunchest followers around the district, 
between the Umvungo and Shashi rivers, so as to completely hem 
the natives in. The country is difficult, being densely wooded. 
Matombo adds that many of the rebels long for the advent of a 
strong power to counteract Mkwati’s influence.’ As late as Novem- 
ber Ndebele messengers came in to warn the Native Commis- 
sioner of Gwelo ‘that Mkwati, one of Mlimo’s prophets, intends 
sending an impi to murder those who have surrendered’. 2 

1 Gielgud to C.N.C., 6 Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/2; Gielgud to C.N.C., 3 Aug. 
1896; Fynn to C.N.C., 10 Aug. 1896, BA 2/9/2. 

2 The Daily Telegraph , 28 Nov. 1896. 


As far as the Ndebele were concerned Mkwati’s attempt to keep 
the rebellion alive was doomed to failure. News began to come 
through of the Matopos negotiations and increasingly they seemed 
to hold out some promise of advantage to the Ndebele, though 
none to the Shona. Surrender in the Matopos meant that the 
whites were free to turn their full strength on to the north-east — at 
the end of August and in September the white attack on the Soma- 
bula and Sliangani area was opened and Baden-Powell’s patrol 
harried the rebels in the forest. Uwini, Mkwati’s father-in-law, 
after a desperate defence of his stronghold was captured, court- 
martialled, and shot on the spot. Mtini and Mkwati kept only 
one move ahead of the white patrols. These events were followed 
by large-scale surrenders of Ndebele. T asked the natives now on 
Battlefield Block what was their opinion of the death of Uwinya,’ 
wrote Fynn, ‘and they replied that they were glad; that “the 
Government had now opened the way for the surrender of the 
Matabele”. Since then many natives from that district have come 
in to surrender to me.’ On September 23rd Baden-Powell, though 
disappointed that he had not captured Mkwati or Makumbi or 
Mtini, reported to Carrington that his patrols ‘have had a great 
effect on the rebels generally. Mkombi’s “preventive” posts having 
been broken up, natives are coming in to the Native Commis- 
sioner in numbers’. After September the trickle of surrenders 
became a flood; some of the leading figures of the old north-east 
faction came in to take advantage of the new amnesty conditions, 
Nyamanda among them. Mkwati’s leadership was coming to 
appear as a Rozwi conspiracy against Ndebele interests and in late 
September a number of members of the Ndebele royal family 
told Native Commissioner Fynn the story of Mkwati and Uwini’s 
plot for ‘the destruction and complete humiliation of their 
hereditary foes, the Matabele’, which has been cited in Chapter 
Four. 1 

Nor was Mpotshwana’s different form of intransigence any more 
successful. His idea of trekking north and crossing the Zambesi ran 
into a number of serious difficulties. One was that drought had 
made the northern areas virtually impossible for large numbers of 
men to move through; there was no food to be had. Another was 
that the Lozi were guarding the fords across the Zambesi and that 

1 Fynn to Baden-Powell, 1 Oct. 1896; Baden-Powell to Carrington, 23 Sept. 
1896, PO 1/1/1. See also BA 2/9/2. 


those members of the royal family and other senior Ndebele who 
managed to reach them were arrested and put under custody by 
King Lewanika’s son, Litia; some of them committed suicide 
rather than be returned as prisoners to the whites. It soon became 
clear, in short, that the time had passed for the preservation of the 
Ndebele ideal by means of the trek north; if anything was to be 
saved, so it seemed, it would have to be saved in Umlugulu and 
Sikombo’s way, through hard negotiation with Rhodes. 

Yet irrational as the appeal of the intransigents seemed in the 
last months of 1896 it is possible now to see that from some points 
of view their instinct was the sound one. We have already seen 
what dangers the events of 1896 presented to continued Company 
rule in Southern Rhodesia. Elsewhere in Africa African resistance 
and rebellion forced the withdrawal of Company administrations 
and compelled the imperial powers, however reluctantly, to com- 
mit themselves directly. This happened both in British and in 
German East Africa, for instance, and no-one can doubt that the 
history of Kenya would have been very different had Company 
rule persisted there until 1923 as was the case in Southern 
Rhodesia. Martin’s insensitive handling of the surrender issue 
might not have held out much hope for the management of 
African affairs under direct imperial administration, but it was 
not long before the growing sophistication of African politics in 
Rhodesia brought home the advantages of imperial over local 
control. Nyamanda, the eldest son of Lobengula, proscribed leader 
of the rising, the young man’s candidate for King in 1896, who 
surrendered under the terms of the Matopos agreement and be- 
came a salaried induna under the new administrative regime, was 
also the chief signatory of a petition in 1919, demanding on behalf 
of the whole Ndebele nation direct imperial control of African 
affairs. Company rule, especially Company rule preserved as it 
was preserved in 1896 partly through a series of concessions to the 
indignant settlers, implied an inevitable movement towards settler 
self-government. 1 

Even after the indaba of September 9th there was still resistance 
to Rhodes’ and Grey’s desire to get the imperial troops out of 
Rhodesia before the end of the year; Martin for a long time refused 

1 For Nyamanda’s later political career see, T. O. Ranger, ‘Traditional 
Authorities and the Rise of Modern Politics in Southern Rhodesia’, The J?am- 
besian Past, eds. E. T. Stokes and R. Brown, Manchester, 1966. 


to accept the surrenders as ‘satisfactory’ and demanded the reten- 
tion of a considerable force. Chamberlain, in the end conceding 
Grey’s reiterated demands, did so with the rider that Grey must 
assume full responsibility for the future; another rising and the 
Charter could not be saved. It is plain that in this situation the 
readiness of the Ndebele leaders to come to terms — even if they 
were good terms — was a main element in the preservation of the 
Company’s control of Rhodesia and hence in the later movement 
to settler rule. Because of the increasing evidence of their sub- 
mission all imperial troops were in fact removed from Matabele- 
land before the end of the year, save for 200 Hussars kept to 
reassure the timid citizens of Bulawayo, and these were soon 
despatched to Mashonaland. Ndebele acceptance of and satis- 
faction with the new administrative arrangements could be — and 
was — used as an argument against any change of government. 
Thus Colenbrander was able to write on October 30th, 1896, to 
emphasize that the whole settlement with the Ndebele depended 
solely upon their trust in Rhodes. ‘They do not know, or dread, 
Imperial officers. I consider the situation so grave in the event of 
the Parliamentary Committee recommending a change which 
would be likely to shake the native confidence in Mr Rhodes and 
the native policy he has succeeded in establishing that I have felt it 
my duty to write this letter.’ He was fully prepared, he concluded, 
to bring the Ndebele chiefs over to England to express there their 
loyalty and their faith ‘in the present system of administration as it 
has been explained to them by Mr Rhodes’. The irony of the con- 
trast between Nyamanda’s situation in 1896 — prepared to testify 
in England on behalf of Company rule — and his situation in 1919 
— petitioning the English Government for an assumption of direct 
responsibility — is one to be savoured; in it lies one of the essential 
themes of the political history of Southern Rhodesian Africans. 1 

But these are considerations which, however important in retro- 
spect, were remote from African thinking in 1896. What most con- 
cerned the Africans of Matabeleland as that terrible year drew to a 
close was the devastated condition of the province and the fate of 
those individuals who had played a leading role in the rising. The 
rising left Matabeleland devastated. It was not so much the loss of 
life during the fighting but the destruction of crops which struck 

1 Colenbrander to Colonial Office, 30 Oct. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 517, 
pp. 330-1. 



African society hardest. ‘The people are starving,’ wrote Carnegie 
in October. ‘A man said to me last week, “Teacher, I would have 
been to see you long ago but was afraid of dying from hunger when 
I got half way to your house.” They eat ox-skins, rinderpest ones, 
boiled in water; roots and berries in the veld. It’s the most hungry 
season I have known in the country. The poor bairns look thin, 
pale and starving and the old folk haggard and miserable. It’s 
among such people I live now, who come in crowds clamouring 
for a few peas of corn to eat. The cry of the children strikes me 
hard. I have already assisted 50 families but many more require 
immediate help and there is no food to give them. How can you 
preach to a starving people? I can’t.’ 

‘Rinderpest, war and famine had left the natives in a truly ex- 
hausted state,’ wrote a later memorialist. ‘In the whole of Mata- 
beleland there remained not more than 5000 head of cattle . . . 
milk was practically unobtainable for the sustenance of Native 
child-life. Women travelled miles to beg sufficient cow dung for 
preservation of their hut floors. Old residents of Bulawayo will 
remember the hordes of men, women and children, in all stages of 
emaciation, seeking a dole of three pounds of mealies at the Native 
Department office. An incredible number of deaths from starva- 
tion occurred.’ The miseries which had impelled the Ndebele and 
their subject peoples to rebel were less acute than those which they 
now endured. Dependent upon the help of the very administration 
they had been fighting — one of Grey’s arguments for the evacuation 
of the imperial troops was that ‘the food needed for the troops 
might have kept 6000 natives alive for six months’ — there was 
possibly little inclination among the majority of the people to 
worry much about the relationship of the rising and its ending to 
their political future. 1 

The leaders of the various rebel factions, however, were most 
personally concerned with the aftermath of the rising and with 
the way white attitudes towards it had developed. There was, as 
might have been expected, a sharp contrast between the lot of 
those who had led the surrenders in the Matopos and those who 
had headed the intransigents of the north-east. For a time little 
could be too good for the senior indunas who had made the peace — 
a correspondent who suggested, in no satirical spirit, early in 1897 

1 Carnegie to Thompson, 12 Oct. 1896, L.M.S., Matabele Mission, Vol. 5, 
No. 102; A statement of Native Policy, no date, S 82/A/260. 


that each induna might be presented with a musical box was told by 
the Acting Administrator that the suggestion was an excellent one 
but ‘that we have to expend a large amount on more tangible 
presents (and) I am afraid that at present we cannot carry your 
suggestion into effect’. On January 5th, 1897, a fifth indaba began, 
the most comprehensive of all, this time in Bulawayo itself. The 
Acting Administrator, Lawley, explained the new system to the 
chiefs, and the final appointments to the administrative districts 
were made. Of the io appointments announced during the indaba 
six went to ex-leaders of the rising. Nyamanda became head induna 
of the Bulawayo district; Nkomo head induna of the Inyati district; 
Somabulana head induna of Upper Insiza district; Sikombo head 
induna of Umzingwani district; Umlugulu head induna of Gwanda 
district; and Dhliso head induna of Matoppo district. The most 
surprising of these appointments, perhaps, was that of Umlugulu, 
who was regarded by many whites as the chief instigator of the 
rising, and who had not been in a position of secular authority 
during Lobengula’s reign. ‘Mlugulu though never an induna 
during Lobengula’s reign’, wrote the Chief Native Commissioner, 
‘had a considerable influence with the King and was one of his 
principal war doctors and also held the position of king maker. It 
was deemed advisable from a political point of view to make him a 
salaried induna.’ 1 

The fate of others who had been associated with Umlugulu in 
the outbreak of the rising was very different. Siginyamatshe, for 
instance, was captured in the Filabusi district by Assistant Native 
Commissioner Wilson, in October 1897. 'On Sunday evening the 
Mlimo was secured to the wagon and had also gyves at his ankles,’ 
reported the Bulawayo Chronicle on October 7th. ‘A few hours after 
retiring the party was awakened by the barking of a dog, and 
hastily rising found the Mlimo had escaped. . . . After about half 
an hour, the night having a bright moon, Sgt-Major Ottey saw, on 
coming up to a spruit, the Mlimo up to his shoulders in water and 
brought him out, finding that his ankles were still secured. He was 
resecured and lodged in jail about 7 o’clock yesterday morning.’ 
Siginyamatshe was charged with sedition and sentenced in June 
1898 to 12 years with hard labour which he served ‘on the break- 
water at Cape-Town’. In 1922 Siginyamatshe was one of three 
Mwari messengers active in Belingwe; now an old man who had 

1 Chief Native Commissioner's Report for Matabeleland, year ending 31 Mar. 1898. 



survived into a new age, his efforts c to recover some of his former 
prestige’ were noted with tolerance by the Native Department. 1 

Makumbi, the commander of Mkwati’s bodyguard, was sen- 
tenced to death for murder on August 19th, 1897, and hanged on 
November 15th of that year. Mtini was captured early in May 
1897. ‘Mtini, the Inyati induna, who headed the murder of Mr 
Native Commissioner Graham’s party,’ reported the Chronicle on 
May 1st, ‘only appeared to realize that he was a prisoner when he 
was taken to the gaol on Monday. On being taken into the gaol 
Mtini suddenly whipped out a knife and tried to cut his throat. 
He, however, only succeeded in inflicting a slight gash before being 
secured.’ ‘Why Mtini, the murderers’ chief from Inyati, should 
have been hindered on Monday last from committing suicide in 
the gaol where he had been placed is one of those questions where 
civilization over-rules the mark,’ commented the Sketch. ‘It would 
have saved a lot of trouble had the brute been allowed to give 
himself his own quietus.’ Mtini was hanged later in the year. It 
was Mpotshwana who gave the most trouble. Hunted by patrols 
in the north he managed to elude them until captured by Gielgud 
in July 1897 ‘within a few miles of the Zambesi’. His death was 
thus recorded by the Bulawayo Chronicle on October 21st, 1897, 
‘Mpotchwana, the famous rebel chief, has died in gaol. His record 
was a singularly black one, even for a rebel chief. When he first 
appeared in the dock his expression was fearless and half amused. 
To the ordinary observer there was nothing in his appearance 
denoting a lust for bloodshed. As time after time he was remanded 
his confident bearing disappeared; suspense and confinement were 
evidently doing their work on the child of the desert. Before his 
demise enough evidence to convict him of murder ten times over 
had been adduced.’ 2 

What, finally, of Mkwati, that remarkable man who had been 
responsible for so many of the crises of 1896? Mkwati was the most 
persistent and resilient of the rebel leaders. Driven out of the 
Somabula forest by Baden-Powell and at bitter odds with the 
Ndebele, he made for western Mashonaland. On the way ‘the 
Matabele followers, who had suffered very much from hunger and 

1 Regina versus Siginyamatshe, HG/M, No. 329; N.C. Belingwe, to Super- 
intendent of Natives, Bulawayo, 13 Apr. 1922, S/N/Byo. to C.N.C., Apr. 1922 
and C.N.C. to Secretary, Administrator, 28 Apr. 1922, N 3/31/1. 

2 Regina versus Makumbi, HC/M, No. 177/63. 


sickness, began to lose faith in the Mlimo’s high priest, saying that 
they were being humbugged, and made a plot to kill him . . . but 
Matafen gave the priest, Mukwati, the tip and both Mukwati and 
Matafen cleared that night and the Matabeles being disgusted 
began to trek back. When they had gone Mukwati and Matafen 
returned and Mashiangombi sent over and his people carried the 
Mlimo’s loot and placed it in his kraal and we all went and lived 
there.’ So the Rozwi Child of Mwari, Tshiwa, described the arrival 
of Mkwati and the Taba Zi Ka Mambo cult representatives at 
Mashiangombi’s kraal in October 1896. Deserted by the last of his 
Ndebele followers, Mkwati was as determined as ever that the 
fight should continue. The message given to Mashiangombi’s 
people from Mkwati’s oracular hut was still the same message that 
Mkwati had given to the Ndebele in March and to the western 
Shona in April and May: ‘The Mlimo will kill all natives who 
made peace and we are going to fight again.’ 1 

1 Tshiwa’s statement, 10 Jan. 1897, LO 5/4/1. 


The Suppression of the Shona Rising 

Meanwhile a desperate struggle had been going on in Mashona- 
land. When the rising broke out there in June the whites were 
taken at an even greater disadvantage than had been the case in 
Matabeleland; on the news of the first killings in Hartley the 
Salisbury administration had issued a warning to prospectors, 
traders and farmers in which it had been compelled to spell out 
that it was in no position to offer them protection or assistance. 
‘If the Makalakas and Mashonas were as clever and brave as they 
are ignorant and feeble,’ wrote The Globe on June 24th, in an un- 
conscious testimony to the efficiency of the organization of the 
rising, ‘they could not have managed better or more boldly for 

Salisbury seemed much more vulnerable to rebel attack than 
Bulawayo had been and even although, as we have seen, the mili- 
tary organization of the Shona rising was unable to bring an 
attacking force against the town, the first weeks in the Salisbury 
laager were very nervous ones. Shona servants and labourers were 
rounded up, and when they tried to escape, court-martialled and 
shot: ‘This is a time’, said the Acting Administrator in Mashona- 
land, Judge Vintcent, ‘for arbitrary power in the interests of the 
general public.’ He could only hold the whites of Salisbury loyal 
to the charter by meeting their clamour for stern measures. The 
clamour was, of course, a loud one. ‘The last news from Mashona- 
land is still depressing,’ wrote the Bulawayo Sketch on July nth, 
‘and the Mashona are coming out in their true colours, fine beaut- 
ies to be made pets of. If we are to hold this land a terrible example 
must be made amongst the murderous insurgents. Punishment 
first and kindness (if any Colonist can experience kindness to such 
fiends) afterwards. The Mashonas have less excuse for such crimes, 
inasmuch as they are not fighting for their independence; they 
never possessed it in the past, and have experienced infinitely 
better times than they ever had before the occupation. There is no 
palliation to their crimes; punishment condign, if slow, must be 
wreaked, and the Imperial Government should undertake it at 


their own cost, as this is distinctly a colony for Englishmen, and 
the most true and loyal Colony Britain possesses.’ 1 

Punishment condign if slow was an accurate prophecy; in the 
end the Shona paid heavily for the rising but it took a long time for 
this payment to be exacted. Contrary to all expectation the Shona 
rising, which broke out only two months before negotiations began 
with the Ndebele, long outlasted the rebellion in Matabeleland; it 
was not until the end of 1897 that it was crushed. 

The offensive phase of the rising, its equivalent to the Umgusa 
phase in Matabeleland, lasted from June until the end of August; 
it took the form of an attack upon the communications system of 
white Mashonaland. On June 24th Vintcent cabled that the roads 
between Salisbury and Umtali and between Salisbury and Hartley 
were in rebel hands; ‘the rebels are apparently cleverly sticking to 
the schantzes on hills and kopjes and lining all available roads’. 
It was impossible to clear the road to Umtali until the imperial 
force arrived, and that force would have to carry with it its own 
provisions and possess mountain guns; as for the Hartley road the 
commander of a patrol sent out along it had met ‘the natives in a 
very large force strongly schantzed on the numerous kopjes lining 
the road. He had to fight his way through under heavy fire.’ 2 
As we have seen it was decided to clear the roads by a double 
move towards Salisbury. The Mashonaland column, with some 
reinforcement, was sent under Colonel Beal to march from Bula- 
wayo to Salisbury and thus to relieve the Salisbury laager and 
clear the Hartley road. Meanwhile arrangements were made for an 
imperial force to land at Beira in Portuguese East Africa and to 
move from there to Salisbury, clearing the vital road to the sea 
and attacking rebel positions as it went. Until such time as these 
relieving forces arrived in their area the rebels of Mashonaland 
were left very much to themselves; the illusion of a successful 
return to the old world of Shona politics was very strong among 
the paramounts of western and central Mashonaland in July 1896. 
Those few white patrols which tried to disturb it were roughly 
handled; on July 29th, for instance, Mangwende’s militant son, 
Mchemwa, ambushed a white force at a narrow point of the road 
two miles from Marendellas and nearly overwhelmed it. 

1 Vintcent to Grey and Carrington, telephone conversation, 24 June 1896, 
C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 520, pp. 253-4. 

2 Taberer to Grey, 17 June 1896, LO 5/6/1. 


The campaigns which followed are difficult to describe since 
they lack any single focus. It will be best to concentrate upon the 
fate of some of the outstanding rebel leaders. For the fighting of 
1896 an account of two of these — Makoni and Mashiangombi — 
gives as good a picture as any; both men were regarded as key 
leaders of the rebellion; both possessed strong forces; both occupied 
positions athwart or adjacent to the main roads to Salisbury. Many 
of the rebel paramounts, whose territories were remote from these 
roads and who were content to stand on the defensive, scarcely 
saw fighting in 1896. Makoni and Mashiangombi, on the other 
hand, bore the main brunt of the imperial counter-attack. 

This counter-attack fell on Makoni first. We have already seen 
how paramount chief Mutota Cirimaunga Makoni moved into 
opposition to the whites; how the manifestations of this opposition 
were the first overt signs of trouble in Mashonaland; and how 
despite the internal opposition of Ndapfunya and Chipunza he 
brought into the rebellion a formidable fighting force. His initiative 
met with instant success. During the two weeks or so when the 
administration was aware that Makoni was planning to rise but 
unaware of the general preparations for rebellion an immediate 
attack on his kraal at Gwindingwi hill was planned. Makoni, it was 
known, had called a meeting of all local chiefs and headmen as 
early as June 9th; on June 16th messengers had been sent out from 
his kraal to alert his allies for an attack on the Native Commissioner’s 
station at Rusape; on the same day rifles were seized from three 
native policemen who were threatened with death. ‘Police cannot 
now move,’ cabled the Native Commissioner on June 17th; ‘I 
think Makoni should be dealt with without delay. ... I consider 
the matter too serious to be overlooked.’ 1 

So also did Judge Vintcent in Salisbury: on the 17th he phoned 
Bulawayo to say that he was mustering 40 men in Umtali and 
proposed ‘going for Makoni without delay. In fact we must.’ But 
before this expedition could set out the whole of western and cen- 
tral Mashonaland came out in rebellion and the situation was 
changed. ‘Our position here now will have to be . . . sit tight,’ ex- 
plained Vintcent on June 19th. ‘Umtali is not strong and naturally 
means sitting tight. Pray do not think I am alarmed or I should 

1 Vintcent to Grey, telephone conversation, 19 June 1896; Vintcent to Grey 
and others, telephone conversation, 21 June 1896; Vintcent to Grey, telephone 
conversation, 22 June 1896, LO 5/6/1. 


rather say in the funks. I want to deal quickly; I mean on the 
defensive.’ On June 2 ist he reported that the inhabitants of Umtali, 
now in laager, had held a public meeting to protest against the 
idea of men being taken from the town to attack Makoni. The 
whites at Headlands were still keen ‘on going for Makoni at once’ 
but Vintcent wisely over-ruled them. ‘I feel very strongly that we 
must teach the niggers a lesson,’ he wrote, ‘but my view is that the 
slightest reverse . . . will encourage other natives to join the rebels.’ 
Therefore, as we have seen, the stations at Rusape and Headlands 
were evacuated, a fighting retreat was made to Umtali, and the 
country abandoned to Makoni. 1 

For more than a month Makoni ruled undisturbed over his 
ancestral area. As a precaution he strengthened the defences on 
Gwindingwi hill, storing food in the great caves which ran below it, 
and throwing up a loopholed wall, some seven feet high, around 
the limits of his ‘town’. But he also took the offensive. All the cattle 
of the neighbouring white farmers were driven to Gwindingwi. 
Moreover Makoni’s men fortified and held the Devil’s Pass on the 
Umtali road. ‘The Devil’s Pass is very difficult country,’ testified 
Native Commissioner Ross at Makoni’s court-martial, ‘and the 
natives would have come down very quickly there.’ Meanwhile 
the whites were helpless. At the end of June an attempt was made 
to persuade his old rival, Mutassa, to attack Makoni’s kraal. ‘What 
reward shall I offer Mutassa?’ asked Vintcent on June 25th. ‘Make 
it big.’ ‘What do you call big?’ returned Grey, cautiously. ‘One 
thousand pounds.’ ‘I should have thought £500 was ample,’ said 
Grey, still obsessed with the expense of the rebellion. In the event 
Mutassa proved unwilling to move against Makoni for either sum; 
he was not confident enough of his own people’s attitude to the 
rebellion to risk such an attack. So Makoni remained unmolested. 1 

At the end of July, however, the situation was transformed. On 
July 28th Lieutenant-Colonel Alderson’s force, having landed at 
Beira, proceeded through sensitive Portuguese territory in civilian 
clothes, and become a military unit once again in Umtali, left that 
town to march on Salisbury. ‘It is to be hoped that he will have 
smashed up Makoni on the way,’ wrote the administrative secretary 
in Bulawayo. 2 

Alderson did, indeed, attack Makoni on the way. He was warned 

1 Vintcent to Grey, telephone conversation, 25 June 1896, LO 5/6/1. 

2 Secretary, Bulawayo, to London Office, 31 July 1896, LO 5/6/2. 


of the ambush waiting at Devil’s Pass by Ndapfunya, and decided 
to march through the bush around the Pass and then to launch an 
attack on Gwindingwi. On the early morning of August 3rd his 
force, guided by Native Commissioner Ross, made across the rough 
ground north of the road towards the hill fort. Alderson was 
equipped with seven-pounders and machine-guns, a force more 
formidable than the Gwindingwi fortifications had been designed 
to resist. The encircling wall, however, was manned by Makoni’s 
warriors, armed with old muskets and a few recently captured 
rifles and after the first surprise of the attack c the natives began to 
fire from the walls . . . the fire was at times heavy and fairly accur- 
ate’. Alderson faced his task with some caution — it was after all his 
first experience of Shona warfare. ‘Not knowing the exact nature 
of the defence and the obstacles or how many men were in the kraal 
I decided to work up to it gradually.’ But at 7.30 a.m. — the attack 
having begun with the shelling of Makoni’s huts at dawn — he 
ordered a general advance; the walls were scaled at two places and 
white troops for the first time entered Makoni’s kraal. Fighting 
still continued, however. ‘Numerous other walls and stockades had 
to be taken one by one while natives hidden inside the huts con- 
tinued to fire on our men.’ Eventually the interior of the kraal was 
cleared but Alderson then discovered that the problems were just 
beginning. Makoni and his people had retired into the caves which 
ran ‘under the east side of the kraal like a rabbit warren’. ‘I did 
not consider that I should be justified in incurring the loss of men 
which must have resulted from entering them,’ wrote Alderson. ‘I 
therefore evacuated and burnt the kraal.’ 1 

Native Commissioner Edwards, who was returning to his district 
with the Alderson column, was scornful of its first engagement. 
‘The surface of the kraal was taken;’ he wrote, ‘the natives, however, 
retired to their caves and made good their position; finding it 
impossible to dislodge them the Colonel retreated and continued 
his march towards Salisbury, leaving the natives in full possession, 
not so much as a sack of grain, which was very plentiful, being 
taken or destroyed.’ Much the same was true, he thought, of the 
subsequent engagements fought by Alderson on his way to Salis- 
bury. At Marendellas he left the road to attack Mangwende’s 
kraal at the ‘rocky fortress’ of Maopo, which was held by Mang- 
wende and Mchemwa. ‘None of the enemy was killed,’ wrote 
1 Alderson report, 17 Aug. 1896, BA 2/8/1. 



Edwards, ‘as the kraal was found to be abandoned after continued 
artillery fire at long range. No search was made for grain, only a 
small quantity being destroyed in the firing of the kraal.’ At Gatsi’s 
Alderson found the rebels already in their caves and ‘after one or 
two futile efforts with small dynamite bombs to dislodge the natives 
from caves many hundreds of yards in extent, withdrew his men, 
again leaving the rebels in full possession of their kraal and grain’. 
Marondera, closer to Salisbury, was allowed to escape without 
loss of life. ‘The effect of the above described operations by the im- 
perial troops’, concluded Edwards, ‘towards the final suppression 
of the rebellion must, in my opinion, be looked upon as being very 
small indeed, as except at Makoni’s, very few of the rebels were 
killed and little damage was done in the capture of arms, cattle or 
grain, and there is no doubt that the natives did not in any instance 
consider themselves defeated, as they were left in possession or else 
effected their escape with trifling loss.’ 1 

These criticisms were justified in so far as Alderson’s actions had 
not destroyed the rebel strength nor disposed them to surrender as 
it was widely and erroneously assumed. On the other hand he had 
cleared the road; Mchemwa and his men withdrew to the north, 
where they remained unmolested for the rest of 1896; the posts at 
Rusape, Headlands and Marendellas were re-established and gar- 
risoned. As for Makoni his position had been seriously weakened. 
Chief Chipunza, who escaped from Gwindingwi during the confu- 
sion of the first attack, reported that ‘there was complete disorgan- 
ization among Makoni’s men remaining in the caves, that numbers 
were leaving ... at least 200 men were killed and many wounded, 
among the former being the chief witch-doctor and 10 of Makoni’s 
chief counsellors’. Makoni’s enemies were encouraged by the sight 
of ‘the vultures passing overhead towards Devil’s Pass in thousands’ 
to show themselves more actively against him; Mutassa and Ndap- 
funya both provided men for further operations against Gwindin- 
gwi. Makoni withdrew his men from the Devil’s Pass and held 
counsel to decide what course to follow. 2 

On August 1 8th Vintcent received the sensational news that 
Makoni was offering to surrender on promise of amnesty and that 
his messengers were waiting at the newly built Fort Haines in 

1 Edwards Memorandum, undated, N 9/5/6. 

2 Alderson report, 17 Aug. 1896, BA 2/8/1; Moodie to Longden, 1 Aug. 
1896, DM 2/9/1. 


Rusape for a reply. It was one of the great missed opportunities 
of the Shona rising. Makoni emerges from all the evidence as the 
paramount least influenced by the Kagubi medium and the other 
religious leaders of the rebellion who were later to prevent the 
other chiefs from accepting surrender overtures; he was perhaps 
the one rebel leader in a position in August 1896 to carry out a 
genuine surrender and his example might have been widely in- 
fluential. After some initial hesitation — ‘Makoni is a man who 
deserves death if any man does’ — the Company officials decided 
that they should parallel the negotiations currently going forward 
in the Matopos with acceptance of Makoni’s surrender. ‘We could, 
of course, wipe Makoni out,’ wrote Vintcent, ‘but Alderson thinks 
it means a loss of life on our side in view of the fact that the caves 
in which the natives have taken refuge are veritable death traps. . . . 
We consider that the possession of Makoni’s person and the coming 
in of his people will have a most beneficial effect generally and 
would probably induce other chiefs to konza. It must not be for- 
gotten that we are to a large extent dependent upon the natives 
for grain supplies [and] any lengthening of military operations 
unless absolutely necessary will mean a shortening of grain sup- 
plies next season. Moreover the sooner this rebellion is ended the 
better for our prospectors and farmers.’ Rhodes agreed — ‘Give 
Makoni whatever terms he asks.’ 1 

The event showed how necessary it was for Rhodes to present 
the imperial authorities with a. fait accompli in his Matopos nego- 
tiations. At this moment, which was just before news of Rhodes’ 
first indaba was to transform the situation, Martin and Goodenough 
were insistent that the rebel leaders should be proscribed; they 
feared in Mashonaland as in Matabeleland a conspiracy of guilty 
men, with the Company and the rebel chiefs agreeing at the expense 
of the settler and the ordinary African alike. ‘Makoni’s surrender 
on condition that life be spared’ declared Martin, ‘would be 
regarded as weakness and have a bad effect. . . . His surrender 
should be unconditional and he should throw himself upon the 
Queen’s mercy.’ Goodenough told Grey on August 20th that no 
conditions should be offered to Makoni whatsoever. The best that 
Grey could do, by promising that on Makoni’s surrender and 
conviction he would be sent ‘to some gaol in Rhodesia or ... to 

1 Vintcent to Grey, telephone conversation, 18 Aug. 1896 and 19 Aug 1896 
LO 5/6/3. 


Robben Island or Breakwater, Capetown, via Bulawayo, as his 
passing through here would have a good effect’, was to persuade 
Goodenough to agree that Makoni should be allowed to surrender 
on the promise of ‘a full and fair trial before a court of law’, on the 
result of which would depend any decision on whether his life 
could be spared or not. 1 

As we have seen Martin was unable in Matabeleland to carry 
his view that the indunas should be given no promises of amnesty 
but be told instead that they had to face trial. There was no second 
Rhodes in Mashonaland, however, and the imperial orders were 
followed. On August 25th the High Commissioner’s terms were 
communicated to Makoni’s envoys. Makoni received them with 
dismay. On the 26th he sent in another messenger to hear the 
terms again from Native Commissioner Ross, and asked that Ross 
should come to Gwindingwi to discuss the whole matter. Ndap- 
funya, who had been assuring Ross from the beginning that the 
whole surrender offer was a trick, now told him that Makoni was 
merely planning to lure him to Gwindingwi and to kill him; Ross 
refused to go and instead presented a 24-hour ultimatum. This was 
Martin’s recipe for the Matopos with a vengeance. After 48 hours 
no reply had been received and the second attack on Gwindingwi 
hill was launched. 2 

In preparation for this attack a good deal of military thinking 
had been done. ‘The best method of dealing with the rebels’, 
opined Alderson, ‘was to send columns out against them, drive 
them into the caves, leave a guard on them of 50 men with plenty 
of supplies, and one or two wagons to gather in all surrounding 
grain stores. But for this there were not enough men available, nor 
food, nor transport.’ In Makoni’s case, however, there were Ndap- 
funya’s and Mutassa’s men available to picket the caves and to 
gather and transport supplies for the besieging force. Moreover a 
new weapon had been developed; if the men in the caves refused 
to surrender they would be compelled to do so by the use of 
dynamite. 3 

1 Grey to Vintcent, telephone conversation, 19 Aug. 1896, LO 5/6/3; 
correspondence between Grey, Goodenough, Carrington and Alderson, Aug. 
1896, LO 5/6/3 and BA 2/8/1. 

2 Staff Diary for 28 Aug. and 1 Sept., BA 2/8/1; Watts to C.S.O., 9 Sept. 
1896, LO 5/4/1. 

3 Alderson to Carrington, telephone conversation, 1 Sept. 1896, BA 3/8/1. 


/t^ C 

Edwards tells us how this method had been developed between 
Alderson’s hrst attack on Makoni and the second assault. At Gatsi’s 
kraal during Alderson’s march to Salisbury a couple of ‘bully 
beef tins filled with dynamite were dropped into the cave but 
needless to say they did no damage to the rebels’. A few weeks 
later more effective techniques were pioneered. Manyepera’s kraal 
in the Marendellas district was under attack by Captain Pease 
with 80 men, Edwards in attendance. Manyepera took refuge in 
his caves— 1 ‘it would have been suicide to have tried to rush the 
entrance to the cave where there was only room for one man at a 
time’ 1 . It was noted, however, that ‘along the flat rock which formed 
the roof of the cave there was a narrow crack which ran practically 
the whole length of the rock and this had been filled with stones 
and ground. We could tell that this fissure went right down into 
the cave as smoke from the fires inside came out at different places. 
One night we quietly removed some of the stones and found that 
we could see light from the fires of the natives in the caves below.* ; 
Some 7-lb. shells were obtained and Lieutenant FichaU, fater to 
figure in the story of Makoni’ s death, ‘lit them and dropped them 
one by one down the hole . . . They went off with a tremendous 
bang and there was great commotion in the cave but no one came 
out. It was decided that this was much too dangerous a game to go 
on with, as there was a good chance of some of us getting hoist 
with our own petards. We next tried smoking the rebels out; we 
pulled down all the huts from nearby and piled the poles and 
grass at both entrances to the cave. The wind was not favourable 
to our fires and did no harm to the rebels but it must have made 
them uncomfortable.’ Then a wagonload of dynamite arrived from 
Umtali. ‘One case was fixed up with a long fuse and lowered down 
against the downstream entrance. I again warned the natives but 
as before was laughed at. The fuse lit and we ran for safety. The 
explosion blew in the poles and rocks at the entrance and a rebel 
who must have been on guard there came staggering out. He was 
a terrible sight. He was skinned from top to toe, but still grasping 
his rifle.’ Despite this experience the men inside still refused to 
surrender, though they sent out of the caves about sixty women 
and children. ‘Next day several cases of dynamite were laid along 
the fissure on top of the caves and fuses timed so that they all went 
off at once. Again I spoke to the rebels and warned them that this 
was the last chance they would get, but without any result. The 


fuse was fired and we retired to a safe distance. The explosion rent 
the cave from end to end. It was the end so far as the rebels in the 
cave were concerned. Two natives only escaped.’ 1 

This terrible encounter became the pattern for many attacks on 
Shona strongholds, despite humanitarian outcry in England. And 
when Major Watts set out for Gwindingwi on the morning of 
August 30th, together with Ndapfunya, Chipunza, two of Mut- 
assa’s sons, and their men, he took dynamite with him. Again the 
kraal was reached at daybreak, though this time surprise was not 
achieved. ‘I would ask my readers’, wrote Lieutenant-Colonel 
Harding, some 40 years after the stirring events in which he took 
part as a young officer, ‘to imagine an irregular miniature moun- 
tain composed of huge boulders on which were perched hundreds 
of native huts inhabited by lazy Mashona men and industrious 
Mashona women. Near the base are to be found huge caves which 
had been enlarged by the wily Mashonas to protect themselves 
against the attacks of the Matabele. ... As is usually the case with 
these night attacks something or other gives the show away, and 
in this case it was the seven pounder with its rumbling wheels, 
and long before we got to the kraal we heard the Mashona cry of 
‘Mawe! Mawe!’ which ... in this case meant “Go to your caves!” ’ 2 
No attempt was made to defend the ruined walls of Gwindingwi; 
the caves were at once occupied by Makoni and his men and 
invested by Watts and Ndapfunya. There was plenty of food and 
running water in the caves and it was virtually impossible to starve 
the defenders out. More forceful tactics were used. The seven- 
pounder gun was brought to bear against the main entrance to the 
caves and machine guns moved from smaller entry to smaller 
entry. Dynamiting was begun though with little effect on the first 
day, since the position of the caves was hard to discover. On the 
second day ‘as the position of the caves was ascertained with more 
certainty heavy charges of dynamite were employed with good 
effects’. Dynamiting continued throughout the four days of the 
siege. ‘The effect produced by the dynamite had been terrible’, 
wrote the Mashonaland correspondent of The Times , ‘and the 
stench from the dead bodies was over-powering.’ Gradually the 
strain became too much for the men in the caves. On the early 
morning of September ist one of Makoni’s sons and a senior 

1 Reminiscences of ‘Wiri’ Edwards, ED 6/1 /i. 

2 C. Harding, Far Bugles, Croydon, 1933, chap. XII. 


headman came out to surrender; later in the day some 30 women 
and children emerged from a cave mouth low down on the hillside; 
during the night some 30 men, including Makoni’s eldest son 
Miripiri, broke out through Ndapfunya’s pickets and escaped. On 
the 2nd most of the remaining women and children staggered out 
of the caves. But by nightfall Makoni and the remainder of his 
fighting men were still in the upper caves. Then at about 2 a.m. 
on September 3rd Makoni either surrendered or was captured at 
the mouth of one of the caves; his followers then surrendered en 
masse and the fighting was over. 1 

There was considerable controversy at the time on Makoni’s 
alleged capture. During the siege Watts had sent interpreters five 
times in all to promise Makoni his life if he would surrender; 
strange though this seems in view of the High Commissioner’s 
instructions there is no doubt from the evidence that the offers 
were made. In this context we should read the account of Native 
Messenger Mandishona. ‘Towards dawn,’ he tells us of the morn- 
ing of September 3rd, ‘when the waning moon had risen, a light 
appeared at the cave’s entrance and out came two of Makoni’s 
wives followed by one of his sons carrying a candle. Tom Dlamini 
went towards them. They said: “Mambo a no da kubuda. Nga va 
regera kuridza pfuti dzazo” — “The chief wishes to come out. The 
firing should be stopped.” This message was sent back to the officer 
commanding the troops, but he refused to stop the firing and 
instead gave orders for it to be intensified. The din of the guns 
became a frightening sound, and the women fled back with their 
escort. We returned to our watching and, suddenly, the tall bearded 
figure of the chief appeared at the mouth of the cave, hesitating, 
afraid of the gun flashes. He said fearfully: “Ndi ka buda a ndi 
urayiwe here?” — “If I come out will I be killed?” Tom Dlamini 
went forward and said: “There is nothing to fear, father. Chinyere 
[Native Commissioner Ross] is here to help you.” But Chinyere 
was not there. Makoni stepped from the cave and as Dlamini took 
him by the hand we left the boulders and got quickly behind him 
to prevent him from going back.’ 2 

At this point Lieutenant Fichat, who made the ‘capture’ of 
Makoni, appeared on the scene. ‘Round the corner inside the 
caves some natives appeared,’ testified the lieutenant later. ‘A 

1 H. C. Thomson, Rhodesia and its Government, London, 1898, chap. VIII. 

2 R. E. Reid, ‘The Capture of Chief Makoni’ NAD A, Vol. 32, 1955. 


policeman who was standing behind me said, that’s Makoni, point- 
ing to an elderly man. I went up and caught hold of him with my 
left hand . . . just then heavy firing started on the other side and 
Makoni tried to pull away from me. I immediately pulled my 
revolver out of my right tunic pocket and held it to his head and 
told him another attempt like that and I would blow his brains 
out. I told the man holding the candle behind Makoni that if he 
blew the light out I would shoot Makoni and loose my revolver 
among the remainder of them ... I took him along, fearing that 
he might break away at any moment and handed him personally 
over to Major Watts.’ Watts cabled later that day that Makoni 
‘was captured, did not surrender’. 1 

Watts now decided to put Makoni on trial straight away. At 
3.30 p.m. on September 3rd he convened a court-martial before 
which Makoni was charged with rebellion under arms, the inevit- 
able Fichat prosecuting. The proceedings were irregular; the High 
Commissioner had demanded atrial in a properly constituted court 
of law and Watts had received no authority to hold a court-martial. 
Moreover, there was no warrant for the sentence of death which 
the court proceeded to pass on Makoni; the penalty for armed 
insurrection laid down by the Matabeleland Order in Council of 
September 10th, 1894, which had not yet been superseded, was 
merely ‘a reasonable fine’. 

All this had disturbed not only the prisoners but also the ‘friend- 
lies’. Ndapfunya’s son when ordered to handcuff Makoni had 
refused to do so; and the trial was watched with horror. ‘Indap- 
funya, a loyal chief, was present with some 200 to 300 men armed 
with guns,’ testified Native Commissioner Ross. ‘They were much 
excited when they heard that Makoni was condemned to death 
and it was doubtful what they would do in the event of an attempt 
at rescue.’ Meanwhile ‘there were a large number of Makoni’s men 
watching us from the hills’. Considering these factors Ross sat down 
and wrote a formal letter to Watts advising him that there would 
probably be a rescue attempt if Makoni were removed to Umtali 
or Salisbury for execution and that in this event the loyalty of the 
friendlies was not to be relied upon. Watts therefore decided to 
proceed with Makoni’s execution. At 12.15 on September 4th, in 
the presence of all the troops and some 400 of Ndapfunya’s men, 
Makoni was shot at the uppermost edge of his kraal. ‘He was 
1 Evidence of Lt. Fichat, 18 Sept. 1896, BA 2/3/1. 

28 o 


placed with his back to a corn bin,’ wrote The Times correspondent, 
‘on the edge of the precipice on which his kraal stood, and died 
with a courage and dignity that extorted an unwilling admiration 
from all who were present.’ 1 

‘The Major asked Makoni if he had anything he wished to say,’ 
relates Mandishona. ‘The chief, standing on his “ruware”, cried 
out to one of his followers . . . who was still hiding in the cave to 
come out and speak for him, but there was silence and he would 
not come. The chief then called to his brother, Masare, who was 
sitting among the Vaungwe gathered there, to speak for him. 
But this Masare had not fought against the white men and now 
he hung his head and remained silent. Makoni cried, “Zwa pera. 
Nda fa”, and called out to the Vaungwe to see to it that he was 
buried with his ancestors. The chief was bound to his own “dura” 
with his arms outstretched whilst a serjeant-major . . . tied a hand- 
kerchief round his eyes. The soldiers stood in line. They fired their 
guns together like a thunder-clap and there it ended.’ 2 

The death of Makoni was at once condemned by the High 
Commissioner who had demanded unconditional surrender and 
supported by the Company officials who had wished to guarantee 
him his life. It was received rapturously by the settlers — the sub- 
sequent surrender of arms in Maungwe, noted the Bulawayo 
Sketch with a side-glance at the proceedings in the Matopos, was 
‘the result of a good sound thrashing not of an indaba’. The admin- 
istration also came to believe that Makoni’s death had ‘had a most 
salutary effect’. ‘In savage wars’, pontificated Rhodesia , ‘the severer 
the lesson administered is in the end often the greater mercy. The 
Decalogue and all the moral codes ever elaborated, unless admin- 
istered in a physical shock form, would convey nothing to wild 
animals. . . . Short and summary measures are the most effective 
in dealing with savage races, whose laws are founded upon force. 
Makoni’s execution during the Mashonaland campaign saved 
several hundreds of native and European lives, for it effectively 
disposed of the impression that rebellion was at a premium and 
white lives at a discount.’ 3 

This conviction was almost certainly wrong, though together 
with Alderson’s belief that he had broken the spirit of the rising it 
contributed to the mistaken idea at the end of 1896 that the Shona 
rebellion was virtually over. In December 1896, during the peace 

1 Thomson, op. cit. 2 Reid, op. cit. 3 Rhodesia, 25 Feb. 1899. 


offensive which is described below, Harding went out to parley 
with a chief near Salisbury. ‘The chief was asked to leave his 
armed men and come unarmed to talk. No, the chief would not 
come, as he was afraid we should capture him and take him to 
Salisbury. We had shot Makoni when he surrendered and we might 
also shoot him.’ This, as Rhodes had foreseen, was the real result 
of Makoni’s death which appeared to the other paramounts not 
as justice but as treachery. It was a main factor in the breakdown 
of peace negotiations and the continuance of the rebellion into 
1897. 1 

Just as the story of Makoni has allowed us also to give an account 
of the significant actions generally in the area east of Salisbury, so 
the story of Mashiangombi will complete our account of the cam- 
paigns of 1896. Mashiangombi himself perhaps needs a little more 
introduction. Sinyenkundu Mashiangombi and his people were a 
branch of a group which had originally come from the Marendel- 
las area and which had moved through many districts in the con- 
fused late nineteenth century period before settling in Hartley. 
Maromo, the rebel chief of Charter district, was a cousin; Chiveru, 
chief and patron of the Kagubi medium, was a close ally and had 
shared much of Mashiangombi’s wanderings. Sinyenkundu had 
eventually settled down close to the Matabeleland border in a 
position of considerable strength. 2 

We have a pleasant account of his villages as they were before 
the rising from the American prospector, ‘Curio’ Brown. Mashian- 
gombi’s people, he tells us, engaged in a varied and successful 
agriculture in the sandy forest soils of the area; ‘fields of mealies, 
kaffir corn, rukwaza, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, pea-nuts, rice- 
beds in the marshes’, ‘Mashiangombi’s numerous small kraals were 
scattered along the broken granite kopjes on both sides of the 
Umfuli river. They contained from 25 to 100 huts each’ and each 
was governed by a sub-chieftain. Near them were kopjes ‘among 
which were caves and recesses, partly natural but partly supple- 
mented with artificial stone walls, thus making an excellent refuge 
and fortress in case of attack’. Brown describes his visits to the 
villages and the hospitality offered to him by the chief’s wives. 
‘White men were looked upon by the Shona as anomalies who do 

1 Harding, op. cit. 

2 Notes on the history of Hartley district, N. C. Jackson, 1903, N3/33/8-N 
3 / 33 / 8 . 



not come under the rules of ordinary humanity’, so he was rele- 
gated to the women’s huts. There he was offered sadza and pea-nut 
sauce, zebra meat, marrow, and engaged in conversations which 
have an ironic echo in the light of the future of Mashiangombi’s 
community. ‘What were the white men doing at Harare? [Salis- 
bury] . . . What the white men intended to do with the gold they 
were digging and how soon they would have enough of it and all 
return to Diamond [Kimberley]. They said if we remained very 
long the Matabeles would come over and kill us while we were 
working in the mines.’ Brown answered their questions with the 
round assertion: ‘We are here for all time, and in a very few years 
thousands of white men will come with their wives and children 
and build big towns out of burnt red mud — towns larger than all 
Mashiangombi’s villages put together.’ 1 

Gradually their amusement at the activities of ‘a lot of harmless 
lunatics who were temporarily wandering about, shooting game 
and searching for gold mines’ gave way to an alarmed speculation 
that perhaps Brown was right after all. The paramount’s kraal 
became the headquarters of a Native Commissioner and the centre 
of tax collection and labour compulsion; Mashiangombi began to 
plan to free himself of these no longer harmless but still incompre- 
hensible lunatics. We have already seen how he made contact with 
Mkwati — Brown tells us of the annual visit to Mashiangombi’s 
kraals of ‘an old witch doctor from Matabeleland’ — and how he 
brought the Kagubi medium to his kraal in April 1896. We have 
seen how his kraals became the headquarters of the Kagubi medium, 
of Bonda and of the Ndebele soldiers brought by Tshiwa; how the 
first killings in Mashonaland took place there. Until the end of 
1896 if there was a single power-house of the Shona rising it was 
situated at Mashiangombi’s. 

Mashiangombi’s men rapidly earnt themselves the reputation 
for unusual aggression. The gave the whites in Hartley laager a 
most unhappy time. On June 18th they opened fire on the laager 
and thereafter maintained a close siege of the place, harassing 
water parties and preventing communication with the outside 
world. On July 5th two messengers from Salisbury, carrying 
despatches, were killed by the rebels within sight of the fort. It 
was the nearest thing to a siege proper in the Shona rising. 

Naturally the attention of the whites was forcefully drawn to 
1 W. H. Brown, On the South African Frontier, 1899, Chap. XIV. 


Mashiangombi and he became the object of a series of punitive 
expeditions in 1896. The first was an attack by Captain White’s 
patrol of 210 whites and 40 Zulus which relieved the laager on 
July 22nd. This patrol attacked the kraal which the Kagubi 
medium had chosen as his headquarters, killing 20 of its defenders, 
and discovering rather to their surprise that it housed some 500 
head of cattle, and ‘a huge quantity of limbo, blankets and shot’, 
the goods sent in to ‘Kagubi’ from all over western and central 
Mashonaland. The next was early in August when the Mashona- 
land column from Matabeleland under Colonel Beal, engaged 
in the task of clearing the road to Salisbury, attacked and burnt 
Mashiangombi’s own kraal. As a result of these two attacks 
Mashiangombi and the Kagubi medium withdrew into positions 
adjacent to the strong caves; Mashiangombi’s continued to be the 
centre of rebellious activity. Indeed, it became more so as time 
went on since refugees from kraals destroyed elsewhere in the 
Hartley and Charter districts took refuge there and since towards 
the end of the year intransigent Ndebele also made it their refuge. 1 

The third — and supposedly final — assault was Colonel Alder- 
son’s on October 10th, the last major action of Alderson’s cam- 
paign against the Mashonaland rebels. A patrol under Major 
Jenner had previously attacked other important kraals in Hartley 
and Charter, driving the occupants in on Mashiangombi’s; on 
the night of October 9th he and Alderson made contact by signal 
and on the 10th a joint attack was launched. The kraals were 
taken and ‘subsequently all the caves which could be located 
were blown up’; Mashiangombi and the rest took refuge in a 
stronghold on the Umfuli and were attacked there on October 
1 6th. Then Alderson left for Lomagundi, which had so far seen no 
whites since the rising, satisfied that Mashiangombi’s had been 
knocked out. 2 

In fact it had not. It was during this fighting that Mkwati 
arrived from Matabeleland and it was in this context that his com- 
mand to fight on was issued: ‘The soldiers turned up’, recalled 
Tshiwa, ‘and killed 16 natives, wounded some. It was arranged 
that if we were driven away as we certainly expected to be 
Mukwati would make for the Zambesi, passing through Sipulelo 

1 N.C., Mazoe, to C.N.C., 30 Oct. 1897, NI/1/6; The Times, 7 Aug. 1896- 
N 1/1/6. 

2 Jenner’s report; Alderson’s report; Nov. 1896, BA 2/8/1. 


district. . . . He accused me of wanting to go back to make peace 
with the whites and would have killed me had his wife Tenkela 
not interfered. . . . There were no whites taken prisoners, all were 
killed when Mukwati was told that Mlimo will kill all natives who 
made peace and that we were going to fight again when the 
soldiers go away.’ 1 

In this spirit the various occupants of Mashiangombi’s re- 
claimed caves — their authority strengthened by the arrival of 
Mkwati and Tenkela-Wamponga — settled down to see through 
the dry season and to prepare for further fighting in 1897. They 
planned to use the loot still left with the Kagubi medium and that 
brought by Mkwati to buy food to see them through the next few 
months and they planned also to use their influence to prevent 
surrenders by the western and central paramounts and to devise 
new and more effective military arrangements for 1897. As their 
continued importance became clear so Alderson was bitterly 
blamed. ‘Alderson committed two great blunders,’ wrote Grey in 
January 1897; ‘after his third attack on Mashiangombi he should 
have blown up his cave and left a fort behind. He did neither and 
the result is that Mashiangombi believes we are afraid.’ ‘Mashia- 
ngombi . . . has been attacked three times by the white troops,’ 
wrote Grey a few days later; ‘the last time by 700 men under 
Alderson. Father Bieler tells me on this occasion Alderson retired 
after three days’ fighting which in his opinion were inconclusive 
and rather a successful repulse by the natives than a victory over 
them. The natives say we have been three times to Mashiangombi 
and have never been able to beat them. ... I cannot understand 
Alderson’s action. Father Bieler says he was influenced by Arthur 
Eyre who was anxious to go to Europe and to secure a visit of the 
imperial troops to his farm on the way to Lomagundi before his 
departure, and that this advice being most acceptable to Alderson 
who was afraid of losing lives if he remained at Mashiangombi’s 
and blew up his caves, he took it and skedaddled.’ 2 

At the time, however, Alderson’s haste to finish off the Mashona- 
land rising was fully shared by Grey and Rhodes who wanted to 
get imperial troops out of that province as well by the end of the 
year. In late October it certainly looked as if the Shona rising had 
been broken. Makoni was dead; Mashiangombi in flight; the 

1 Tshiwa’s statement, 10 Jan. 1897, LO 5/4/1. 

2 Grey to Lady Grey, 3 Jan. 1897 and 10 Jan. 1897, GR 1/1/1. 


roads were cleared; most of the rebels were quietly planting crops 
for the coming wet season. It was hardly to be believed that the 
Shona would resist longer than the Ndebele had done. Rhodes 
and his party, travelling in late October from Bulawayo to Salis- 
bury, found themselves ‘here in the veld in the heart of a rebellion 
in perfect safety’. On November ioth Rhodes sent Grey a highly 
characteristic letter. ‘As I told you we found the rebellion all along 
the road practically over except for a few natives here and there 
in the caves, e.g. at Charter the people told us they had not seen 
a native for three months and Taylor, the Native Commissioner 
for the district comprised in Charter and Enkeldoorn, stated he 
could go anywhere and that the only rebel Mashona chief was 
Sango who was living about 7 miles from Enkeldoorn in a granite 
kopje and as I daresay you have heard we went out and destroyed 
his kraal, killing a good many natives. It appears therefore to me 
useless to place Mounted Infantry at Charter and the same re- 
mark applies here [Enkeldoorn]. The two patrols that have been 
to Mazoe and Lomagundi districts are just in and have met with 
no natives. There are still two or three Mashona chiefs left in 
caves in granite kopjes but it appears to me they will be a matter 
for police rather than a large force. . . . With these facts before 
us I think it would be possible to wind up matters and get the 
police before the rainy weather.’ 1 

Carrington, also anxious to get home now that the Matabele- 
land fighting was over, was disposed to agree. On November 19th 
the Staff Diary noted that ‘no organized rebellion exists any 
longer’ and that the Shona were anxious to surrender. In this 
atmosphere peace overtures were made to the Shona chiefs of 
western and central Mashonaland who were offered their lives in 
return for the surrender of arms and the evacuation of strong- 
holds. At the end of November Major Jenner held indab as with 
paramounts Chiquaqua and Kunzwi-Nyandoro. They were edgy, 
rather comic affairs. Jenner’s first meeting with Chiquaqua was 
conducted by shouting over a distance of 200 yards; Chiquaqua 
asked for the gift of a spade to symbolize the government’s readi- 
ness to let him grow crops but would not come down to meet them 
to be given it; ‘I did not consider it good policy to thrust it into 
his hands without receiving any quid pro quo’, reported Jenner. 
But the optimistic major also reported that he was convinced that 
1 Rhodes to Grey, 10 Nov. 1896, BA 2/1 /i. 



Chiquaqua really wanted peace and would conform. A few days 
later Jenner met Kunzwi-Nyandoro’s brother — Kunzwi himself 
was diplomatically sick— and although he got no tangible results 
he again reported that ‘Kunzwi’s people will be loyal in future’. 
‘The other chiefs will now come in,’ he wrote confidently to 
Alderson on November 21st. 1 

These indabas went on but Jenner’s optimism was enough for 
Carrington. ‘After full inquiry I am of the opinion that the re- 
bellion is at an end throughout Mashonaland,’ he cabled on 
November 23rd. There was no further need for troops and the 
new police to be commanded by Martin could now take over. By 
December all imperial troops in Mashonaland had left save for 
100 to make up the shortfall in the ranks of the new police. 2 

The only man who did not share the general optimism was Sir 
Richard Martin, who feared that the Shona might be pretending 
a readiness to surrender in order that they might fight again in 
1897; but the success of Rhodes’ negotiations in Matabeleland 
had discredited Martin’s views on such matters. He turned out to 
be perfectly right as far as Mashonaland was concerned. No 
sooner had the imperial troops gone than evidence began to come 
to hand which showed that the peace talks had been a conscious 
comedy on the side of the Shona. This evidence also showed how 
important still was the concentration of leaders at Mashiangombi’s. 

On December 18th Chief Native Commissioner Taberer wrote 
to Grey to state for the first time the central importance of the 
Kagubi medium in the rising. ‘I have no hesitation in saying that 
the rebellion was, and the present attitude of the Mashonas north 
of the Macheke river is, governed by the Mondoro, or witch 
doctor, and that the future attitude of the Mashonas depends upon 
our manner of dealing with the chief Mashiangombi who, having 
the Mondoro resident among his people, acts on the Mondoro’s 
direct advice and command and transmits his orders to other 
districts. . . . The Mondoro exacts tribute and taxes from all the 
Mashonas; hence his advice to Mashiangombi not to come to any 
terms unless the Government remove the forces from the district. 
Provided that they can get good supplies from other quarters, 
which they can, they are not over anxious to sow their seed. The 

1 Reports on indabas with Chiquaqua and Nyandoro, 18 Nov., 19 Nov., 21 
Nov. 1896, LO 5/4/1; BA 2/8/1. 

2 Grey to Secretary, Cape Town, 23 Nov. 1896, LO 5/2/52. 


Hartley Hill natives blindly follow the advice of the Mondoro and 
although interviews with sub-chiefs such as Chiquaqua, Kunswi 
and Nyameda are to a certain extent satisfactory my firm belief 
is that it admirably suits them to comply with our desires that 
hostilities should cease and the natives sow their crops. They have 
got to live and have further to supply their Mondoro. 5 Taberer’s 
assumptions were later confirmed. ‘When Kunzwi and Chiquaqua 
were visited by Major Jenner’, wrote Armstrong in February, 
‘they both sent to Gargoobi and were told not to give up their 
guns. The messenger sent by Kunzwi was named Panash and took 
down two pieces of limbo. 5 ‘I am told that when I went and inter- 
viewed Kunzwi and Chiquaqua last November,’ wrote Campbell, 
‘they really meant to surrender but each was unwilling to be the 
first to lay down his arms and afterwards under threats from 
Kagubi, Mashanganyika, Gonto and Zhanta again became 
defiant. 5 In Matabeleland the senior Ndebele indunas had been 
able to defy the religious leaders and to pursue a policy of 
negotiation. In Mashonaland the religious leadership retained 
control. 1 

Father Richartz’s intelligence report of January 10th 1897 
summed up the Chishawasha mission’s findings: ‘They much 
hope in an extraordinary intervention of that mysterious power 
of their chief Mondoros, as they did in the beginning of the 
rising. . . . Our boys have always asked me whether the Mulenka 
or Witch Doctor at Mashiangombi’s had given in and assured me 
that the war would be over and the people would come and work 
at once, as soon as he allows them to approach the white people 
and gives orders to stop hostilities.’ 2 

As this picture grew clearer so the indabas grew less reassuring. 
Talks with Mashiangombi himself broke down in his insistence 
that the whites must withdraw their police and administrators 
entirely from his area; and in an indaba with paramount chief 
Soswe on January 15th the authentic voice of Shona resistance 
was heard. ‘I have nothing to talk to the white man about. . . . 
What do you want to return for? Are you leaving anything behind 
you? Go away and remain away. I wish to have nothing to do with 
you white men. Go and live in Chimioio and I will send boys to 

1 Taberer to Grey, 18 Dec. 1896, LO 5/4/1; Armstrong to Taberer, 20 
Feb. 1897, LO 5/4/2; Campbell to Taberer, 15 May 1897, N 1/1/9. 

2 Father Richartz, 10 Jan. 1897, LO 5/4/1. 



work for you there if you want them. Why did you burn my 
kraal? Did I ever interfere with your wagons on the road? Go to 
Chimioio. I don’t want any white men in my district.’ 1 

It was clear, then, that hostilities would be resumed in 1897 
and that in Mashonaland Rhodes’ gamble had failed. In January 
Grey told Rhodes, who was inclined to talk too much in London 
of how peaceful Mashonaland was, that in fact it looked as if a 
wholesale resumption of the rebellion was in preparation. ‘Ross 
has warned me distinctly that unless we can impress Mashonas 
with our strength during the next months we shall have renewed 
troubles after rains and perhaps on larger scale. Makoni’s suc- 
cessor and other friendly chiefs say the Mashonas intend to rise 
after they have secured their crops. N. C. Morris, Marendellas, 
informs me has no friendly in his district owing to influence para- 
mount whose kraal only three miles from road. . . . Further 
Makoni’s sons and Mangwende have joined 30 miles N.E. of 
Marendellas and are 700 strong causing much worry and anxiety 
to natives supposed to be friendly. In the Hartley district Mashia- 
ngombi, supported by witch-doctors and Matabele is waiting. 
Brabant and Taberer both convinced unless we can make things 
unpleasant for him I shall have trouble next year.’ 2 

Both sides were preparing new forces for the coming struggle. 
On the side of the whites there were the new Police, most of them 
raw and untrained and extremely susceptible to fever. ‘The 
police were totally untrained,’ wrote Thomson of The Times , ‘and 
unused to the country and its ways. They had been enlisted in 
England and when Captain De Moleyns assumed command they 
had, as a matter of fact, not arrived, but were on the way from 
Beira to Salisbury.’ When they did arrive Martin at once decided 
that with such a force ‘it would not be safe to take the offensive 
until the rainy season was over and the men under Captain De 
Moleyns’ command had become in some measure habituated to 
the climate and to the nature of the work before them’. Grey 
confessed to Rhodes on January 10th Makoni’s sons and Mchem- 
wa could not be dealt with ‘at present. . . . We must have force.’ 
And on December 25th, Hopper, commanding the new police in 
Hartley, admitted that with them he could not move against 
‘this head of the Mashona rebellion’, the Kagubi medium. ‘Had 

1 Morris to Taberer, 16 Jan. 1897, LO 5/4/1. 

2 Grey to Rhodes, Jan. 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1., Vol. 1. 


I sufficient number of trained men I would immediately place 
them in a fort close to Mandora’s kraal . . . but I saw quite 
enough of my men the other day to come to the conclusion that 
to risk any chance of an engagement until their training is con- 
siderably progressed would be exceedingly foolish and dangerous. 
I shall therefore put them through a hurried course of those 
movements which are absolutely essential in native warfare.’ 
There must have been moments when even Grey wished that the 
imperial troops were still in Mashonalancl. 1 

This state of affairs gave Mkwati and Kagubi a chance to 
attempt a scheme of their own to make the fighting of 1897 more 
effective, and to find some substitute for the Ndebele military 
system. This was nothing less than an attempt to revive the politi- 
cal institutions of the Rozwi. We have already seen how Mkwati 
exploited the memory of the Rozwi empire during the rising in 
Matabeleland by his links with Uwini, by his use of Taba Zi Ka 
Mambo, and inevitably by his use of the machinery of the Mwari 
cult itself. We have seen also how the spiritual prestige of the 
Rozwi still extended deep into Mashonaland and how even the 
memory of their past military might was not dead. The whole 
area of Mashonaland which was now in revolt had once been part 
of the Rozwi confederation; groups of Rozwi lived scattered 
throughout the area and some of them still exercised a ritual 
superiority over the Shona paramounts. It may be, indeed, that 
we have understated their role in the outbreak of the rising. They 
were probably important in the Maungwe area, for example. 
There lived the holder of the Rozwi title, Chiduku, who himself 
claimed descent from the royal line and whose presence was 
necessary at the installation of a Mangwende; the holder of the 
Rozwi title, Tandi, whose presence was necessary at the installa- 
tion of a Makoni; and the holder of the Rozwi title, Mavudzi, a 
man of considerable spiritual power who appears in Rozwi tradi- 
tion as a ‘priest’ at the court of the Mambo and who could still be 
described in the 1920s as ‘the great rain-maker of the VaRozwi 
and indeed of all the tribes in this district’. These Rozwi ‘chiefs’ 
were certainly all out in rebellion in 1896 and they may well have 
played a part in the coordination of the rising. Mavudzi, for 
instance, is said by Rozwi oral evidence to be the traditional 

1 Thomson, op. cit; Hopper’s report, 25 Dec. 1896, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 
517, p. 409. 


intermediary between the Nehanda medium and the Mwari cult; 
and there is evidence that both Bonda and Tshiwa paid visits to 
the Rozwi title-holders after the rising had broken out. 1 

All this, then, lay behind the decision now taken to install a 
Rozwi paramount and to gather under his command Rozwi 
fighting men from the various districts of Mashonaland including 
those which were not up in rebellion. Such a paramount might 
even be recognized as a central authority by the Shona chiefs 
themselves but even if he was not he would represent an ally more 
able than any of the other chiefs to mobilize men for attack in the 
areas chosen by Mkwati and Kagubi. There were a number of 
people who might claim the Rozwi paramountcy which had 
lapsed in the dark days of the Ndebele victory and the Rozwi 
diaspora. One of these was Mudzinganyama Jiri Mteveri, living 
in 1896 in the Ndanga district, which was not in rebellion. 
Mudzinganyama claimed to be the great-grandson of Mambo 
Gumbo-Remvura and the great-nephew of Mambo Dlembeu and 
regarded himself as the rightful heir to the Mambo-ship. In 1901, 
some years after the events described below, the Native Com- 
missioner, Belingwe, met him travelling through that district. ‘He 
informed me, inter alia, that he was the eldest male descendant 
of the Mambos and therefore should be king of Rhodesia. He 
appears to be an intelligent native and is evidently feared and 
respected by the local natives.’ 2 

It was this man who was chosen by Mkwati and Kagubi, with 
the assent of other leading Rozwi figures, to revive the Mambo- 
ship. Bonda was the go-between employed to broach this project 
to the Rozwi chiefs generally and late in 1896 and early in 1897 
he made many journeys from Mashiangombi’s to the Sabi, to 
Wedza, and to Maungwe, where he consulted with Chiduku, 
Tandi, Mavudzi and Mbava. Perhaps surprisingly the Rozwi 
were more ready to recognize Mudzinganyama as Mambo than 
the Ndebele had been to accept any claimant as king. In Decem- 
ber 1896 an impressive delegation waited upon Mudzinganyama 

1 Marodzi, ‘The BaRozwi’, NAD A, 1924; E. Lloyd, ‘Mbava’, NAD A, 1925; 
Muhlanga, ‘Mbayva and others’, NAD A, 1926; Abraham, ‘The Principality of 
Maungwe’, NAD A, 1951; interview between Mr Solomon Nengubo and Chi- 
hoya, a Mwari cult officer, in Bikita, Feb. 1963. 

2 Report for Belingwe, April 1901, LO 5/7/6. Von Sicard gives a genealogy 
for Mudzinganyama in NAD A, 1933. Mr. Nengubo’s interviews suggest that 
this genealogy is telescoped. 


to invite him to assume the Mamboship. The delegation con- 
sisted of Bonda and ‘several of the Mlimo’s messengers’; of the 
Rozwi chiefs Chiduku, Mbava and Mavudzi; and of the Njanja 
chief Gambiza’s son with others of his people. ‘I learnt’, wrote the 
Native Commissioner, Ndanga, reporting this in March 1897, 
‘that Mtebera was the head of all the VaRozwi and that he had 
taken the title of Mambo, this being the name of the VaRozwi 
chief who lived at Ntaba Zakamambo and who was killed by the 
Matabele at the time they first invaded the country. After the 
death of Mambo the VaRozwi scattered all over the country; 
the head chief discontinued to use the name Mambo and was only 
known by the name of Mtebera. Why after all these years should 
the name Mambo be revived now? The natives say that the Mlimo 
is endeavouring to get the VaRozwi to return to their old country 
at Ntaba Zaka Mambo but for what purpose I have not been 
able to ascertain.’ Later in March he reported that some of 
those who had left with chief Mudzinganyama Jiri Mteveri 
and accompanied the delegation to the north had returned 
to tell the Karanga that ‘it was no use working their lands’ as 
Mwari was preparing another effort ‘to wipe out all whites and 
friendlies’. 1 

The plan appeared to be working. Mudzinganyama had been 
recognized as Mambo and was waiting in a temporary kraal on 
the Sabi river in Charter district for his followers to assemble. 
Rozwi fighting men were being promised by Bonda and other 
emissaries that ‘all WaRosi killed by white men were to come to 
life again’. But the authorities were for once aware of what was 
being planned; the report of the Native Commissioner, Ndanga, 
alerted them to the danger. In March the Native Commissioners 
of Hartley, Charter and Victoria reported on Bonda’s move- 
ments — ‘the Mlimo has sent one Bonda to incite the AbaRosi to 
rise,’ wrote the Native Commissioner, Charter, who instituted a 
close watch on the local Rozwi and on any movements of strangers 
in his area. ‘The Mlimo had sent Bonda to incite the AbaRosi to 
rebellion’, echoed the Native Commissioner, Victoria, and he also 
‘placed spies among the AbaRosi to watch for the advent of the 
messengers’. These precautions did not result in Bonda’s capture, 
but they did, almost incidentally, result in the detention of 

1 N.C., Ndanga, to C.N.G., 2 Mar. and 24 Mar. 1897, N 1/1/8; Armstrong 
to C.N.C., 20 Feb. 1897, LO 5/4/2. 


Mudzinganyama at the office of the Native Commissioner, 
Charter. 1 

The scheme was not a complete failure, however; the Rozwi 
were at least partially mobilized. In April 1897, when fighting 
had broken out again throughout central Mashonaland and 
Martin’s new police were ready for their job, Native Com- 
missioner Armstrong reported from the Mrewa area that ‘we 
found quite a lot of WaRosi gathered there under a MaRosi chief, 
some having come from Mangwendi’s, Makoni’s and even from 
Charter’. In May he wrote: ‘I have been astounded by the num- 
ber of WaRosi rebels and believe the WaRosi were the main 
support of the rising in every district and our bitterest enemies.’ 
And Rozwi commitment to the rebellion continued to the end. 
‘None of the BaRozwi have surrendered yet,’ noted the Native 
Commissioner, Marendellas, in June 1897 as others in his district 
began to come in, ‘and I do not think they will unless a patrol is 
sent to their district and a fort built there.’ On December 31st, 
1897, he wrote that the only chief in his district who was still 
defiant was ‘a BaRozwi chief named Mbava. . . . This chief has 
openly resisted my messengers and attacked a neighbouring 
kraal. The patrol, however, was unable to punish him as he 
anticipated our arrival and crossed the Sabi river into the Charter 
district.’ Even as late as March 1900 the same officer was writing: 
‘I should not be at all surprised if there was a disturbance amongst 
the natives the BaRozwi would be the cause of it.’ 2 

This scheme to revive the Rozwi power was linked with the 
departure of Mkwati and the Kagubi medium from Mashia- 
ngombi’s kraals in January 1897, ‘Kagubi’ with the intention of 
‘going to garden and collect food at Chinamora’s; then going 
down to the Chidukwi district on the Sabi river below Mount 
Wedza where he intended bringing up a party of MaRosi to fight 
next dry season’, and Mkwati perhaps with the intention of 
bringing the Rozwi of eastern Matabeleland into the scheme. 
Grey had the agonizing experience in that month of knowing 
perfectly well the importance of Mkwati and discovering that of 
the Kagubi medium; locating both of them and knowing their 

1 N.C., Charter, to C.N.C., 9 Mar. 1897, N 1/1/2; summary of work done 
during week ending 19 March 1897, LO 5/4/2. 

2 Armstrong to Grey, 29 Apr. 1897, LO 5/4/3; N. C., Marendellas, to C.N.C., 
30 June and 31 Dec., 1897, March 1900, LO 5/4/6, LO 5/4/8, LO 5/5/3. 


intention to move from Mashiangombi’s; but being unable to do 
anything about it. 1 

On January 8th it was reported that Mkwati had been dis- 
covered moving away from Mashiangombi’s with a small party 
into eastern Matabeleland, ‘driving people away from them so 
as not to attract attention’. Grey and Martin agreed that he 
should be captured but on January ioth the Officer Command- 
ing, Bulawayo, strongly advised against any attempt. ‘The patrol 
under present conditions would be too expensive in lives and 
material for the result obtained. The present swollen state of the 
rivers presents serious obstacles to the quick movement necessary.’ 
Mkwati was left alone, therefore, and managed later to join the 
Kagubi and Nehanda mediums to the north of Salisbury. 2 

Even more humiliating was the failure to capture the Kagubi 
medium in the first trial of strength between him and the new 
police. The medium was under observation by Hopper; he had 
quarrelled with Mashiangombi who regarded his planned depar- 
ture as a desertion and was refusing to allow him to leave; a 
reward was put on his head early in January by Grey. Hubert 
Howard, one of Grey’s young aristocratic assistants, was anxious 
to earn the reward and the distinction of a capture and went off 
to Hartley but he found it frustrating work. ‘It was necessary to 
capture the God of the Mashonas,’ he wrote, ‘the Mondoro, at 
Hartley. De Moleyns did not like the responsibility and waited 
orders, so in I came from Hartley, rode to the Deputy Com- 
missioner [Martin] who read the despatches and sat irresolutely — 
moulting is the only true image; up to the Administrator who 
galvanized the old lady into instant action and in a couple of 
hours he had doctor’s orders and everything ready and des- 
patched. On the orders De Moleyns was again irresolute — made a 
night march to within a mile of the enemy and then right about 
to build a fort instead of instantly putting the matter to the touch. 
I came back in despair.’ 3 

It was once again a matter of the weakness of the new police 
and the strength of Mashiangombi’s defences. De Moleyns ex- 
plained that he had called off his night attack on January 12th 

1 Armstrong to C.N.C., 20 Feb. 1897, LO 5/4/2. 

2 Martin to Rosmead, 4 Jan., 8 Jan., 14 Jan. 1897, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 
5 1 7j PP- 3 8 3> 4cm 

3 Howard to Lady Grey, 17 Jan. 1897, GR 1/1/1. 


because ‘I was informed by spies . . . that the natives were awake, 
occasionally bring off guns, shouting, etc., and had men on the 
look-out, and under the circumstances I considered that even if 
I could effect an entrance into the kraals it was very doubtful 
whether I could capture the Mondoro.’ On January 16th when it 
was discovered that the Kagubi medium had left his kraal De 
Moleyns found it so well protected that it was ‘difficult to get in 
. . . even without resistance’; his African police, moreover, ‘had 
to be driven forward and would not go on without the white 
men . . . and showed none of the eagerness to get in which I was 
told to expect’. On the 17th it was discovered that ‘Kagubi’ had 
merely moved to another fortified hill but De Moleyns was no 
more anxious to attack that. ‘I hardly think His Honour the 
Commandant General appreciates the difficulty of surprising their 
kraal,’ he protested, ‘when they are barricaded and expecting 
attack day and night.’ On the next day the medium at last slipped 
away from Mashiangombi’s and escaped from De Moleyns’ 
pursuing patrol. 1 

The lessons of these events were spelt out by Father Biehler in 
an intelligence report on February 15th. It was clear, he wrote, 
that ‘far from any peaceful settlement’ the Shona ‘mean to be 
independent’. If Jenner had insisted on an immediate and strict 
observance of surrender terms from Chiquaqua and Kunzwi 
something might have been achieved ‘but to rely on Mashona 
promises is mere foolishness’. Two main reasons could be put for- 
ward for the fact that even after the operations of the imperial 
troops the Shona were still able to resist. One was that ‘nowhere 
the natives have received a lesson. ... At Mashayangombe we 
have not even been able to take real possession of the witch- 
doctor’s kopje; and more we probably had more casualties than 
the natives. In any case, our present situation at Hartley suffi- 
ciently proves the case. Kagubi is boasting everywhere now that 
four times the white men came to attack him and they have 
never been able to get hold of him.’ The second reason was ‘the 
untouched power of the witch-doctor Kagubi and the Mazoe 
witch Nehanda. Kagubi has passed through Seki, Mashanga- 
nyika, Gondo, Kaiya, Bururu, etc., where he has given orders not 
to give in, and he is now in a good position called Zwiwa . . . not 

1 Rhodesia Herald, 20 Jan. 1897; De Moleyns to C.S.O., 14 Jan ., 17 Jan., 19 
Jan. 1897, LO 5/4/ 1 - 


very far from Nehanda. If attacked they can easily clear from 
kopje to kopje.’ Biehler went on to lay down the necessary mea- 
sures to break Shona resistance. ‘Our mode of fighting is not the 
proper one for Mashonas; even the natives laugh at it. They 
know a long time before hand when we are coming; then they 
have plenty of time to send away both their women and their 
cattle, and the men sit in their caves where they have the best 
chance since they see us and we do not see them. . . . The differ- 
ent method of fighting when dealing with these coward Mashonas 
in their rocks must be adopted. It seems to me that the only way 
of doing anything at all with these natives is to starve them, 
destroy their lands and kill all that can be killed.’ And it was 
essential to capture or kill the mediums: ‘as long as those witch- 
doctors in the country are not disposed of there is no hope of 
peace’. 1 

White attempts to carry out this programme and to destroy 
Shona resistance piecemeal were little reported at the time and 
have been little studied subsequently. The books on the risings 
which were hastily produced by the soldiers who took part in 
their suppression dealt exclusively with the events of 1896 and 
assumed that the rebellions had ended in that year. The English 
press paid little attention to events in Mashonaland in 1897. To 
that extent Rhodes’ luck held — and the sort of fighting which 
went on in 1897 did not really threaten a white disaster in the 
field of the sort which Chamberlain had warned would mean the 
revocation of the Charter. Nevertheless the continued resistance 
of the Shona was important at the time to the whites of the eastern 
province, whose economic activities were hardly resumed until 
1 898 and who saw their Matabeleland rivals drawing still further 
ahead. Above all the fighting was important to Shona society in 
the rebel areas. In some ways this was the really heroic period of 
the Shona risings. The effort required to renew the war after the 
privations of 1896; the effort of faith required to maintain full 
commitment to the rising; the refusal to negotiate — all this ex- 
hausted Shona society for years to come. The best way to follow 
the story of 1897 wid be to complete first our account of Mashia- 
ngombi and then turn to trace the fate of the Kagubi medium 
and Mkwati in central Mashonaland. 

Hopes of Mashiangombi’s surrender faded rapidly in January 
1 Intelligence report, 15 Feb. 1897, LO 5/4/2. 


1897 an d it was decided to follow a policy of harassment: ‘I do 
not propose to attack any strongholds,’ wrote Martin, ‘but to 
establish forts, harass him and threaten his crops.’ For his part 
Mashiangombi adopted a similar policy with respect to the forts 
erected near his kraal. In February African police— the so-called 
Black Watch under our friend Brabant — destroyed many of 
Mashiangombi’s gardens; he in return made a series of attacks 
on Fort Mondoro, where the garrison were very heavily hit 
with malaria and kept awake at night by rebel fusillades. By 
early March the strain of the white presence was beginning to 
tell on Mashiangombi. ‘I am occupying a kopje 1 800 yards from 
Mashiangombi’s own kraal,’ wrote Captain Nesbitt, ‘this very 
much against the chief’s wish. Mashiangombi is . . . very un- 
easy at having the white man so near his kraal. This fort is 
impregnable and the best possible place and will have the 
desired effect. Mashiangombi himself says he does not want 
the white man here; one of his terms of surrender is that I eva- 
cuate the place and return to Hartley where he will send me 
labour.’ 1 

These renewed surrender negotiations soon proved to be as 
much a tactic to buy time as the ones in December had been. On 
March 1 7th Mashiangombi took more direct methods of ridding 
himself of the white man. That morning he attacked Fort Mon- 
doro in force, striking at dawn with 400 men; three hours of hard 
fighting followed before they were repulsed. Nesbitt called in some 
alarm for fresh supplies and ammunition. ‘Escort must be very 
strong . . . please don’t delay one minute but send assistance. 
Niggers now firing on fort.’ ‘There has been a lot of fighting in the 
country during the week,’ wrote Milton in Salisbury, thus noting 
the real beginning of rebel activities in 1897. ‘The Mashonas at 
Hartley — with whom there were certainly many Matabeles — 
actually attacked the fort for three hours. They were beaten off 
but killed 3 Cape boys and many mules. A patrol which went out 
to Mtoko’s, N.E. of here, to raise some native levies among the 
friendlies had 7 days’ fighting on the march. . . . The police are 
doing very well but the Mashonas are stubborn and decline to 
hold any communication with us. They want a good hammering 
first. It is very disheartening not to be able to stop the fighting. 
Lots of men are waiting to go out prospecting and mining but you 
1 Nesbitt to Officer Commanding, 1 Mar. 1897, LO 5/4/2. 


cannot go 8 miles from here without risking the chance of being 
potted at from a kopje.’ 1 

Mashiangombi’s ‘good hammering’ came at last in July. A 
strong patrol commanded by Martin himself left Salisbury to 
great public acclaim, laagered some four miles from Mashia- 
ngombi’s on the night of July 23rd and launched a dawn attack 
on Mashiangombi’s kraal. At the same time the Hussars, who had 
been brought to Mashonaland from Bulawayo, attacked the 
Mondoro and Mwari kraals, which had once been occupied by 
‘Kagubi’ and Mkwati. The attack was a complete success and the 
defenders took to the caves. ‘As we got into the main kraal,’ 
wrote the Rhodesia Herald correspondent, ‘we found the fires burn- 
ing and food simmering, but the natives had made themselves 
invisible . . . from sundry small fissures around the kraal the 
rebels kept up a desultory fire but so far no casualties had hap- 
pened. All day long a heavy fire was kept up to and from the 
caves. . . . The rebels were asked to come out and surrender but 
Mashiangombi only returned insulting replies. ... At night the 
rebels were still blazing away at us from their inaccessible position, 
many narrow escapes being witnessed. A very strong picket was 
then placed around the caves . . . and the camp prepared to eat 
and rest. But it appeared that there was to be no rest for the 
weary, for the rebels attempted to pick off the pickets and heavy 
firing was kept up by both sides right through the night. ... At 
daybreak the rebels made a determined effort to dislodge the 
pickets, seeing that it was their last chance of escaping from the 
caves and a number of rebels were shot.’ One of those shot was 
Mashiangombi himself. ‘We discovered the body of Mashia- 
ngombi today at 2.30,’ wrote Native Commissioner Scott. ‘He 
had marks of dynamite on his body. He was also shot at daybreak 
this morning in trying to escape from one of the caves. He was 
lying about 15 yards in front of the mouth of it. . . . From what 
I can gather it was Mashiangombi, backed by his brother Chi- 
famba, who was determined to see it out to the last. They both 
were killed.’ 2 

1 Nesbitt to C.S.O., 17 Mar. 1897, LO 5/4/2; Milton to his wife, 22 Mar. 
1897, ML 1/1/2. 

2 Rhodesia Herald, 21 July, 28 July, 4 Aug. 1897; reports by Captain Rivett 
Carnac and N.C. Scott, LO 5/4/5; Scott to C.N.C., 25 July and 6 Aug. 1897, 
N 1/1/3. 


The death of the main rebel leader in western Mashonaland 
was also recorded in one of those enthusiastic girlish letters which 
are a strange feature of the surviving records of the risings. One 
of the troopers present at the attack was Frederick Thomas Blyth 
and on September 8th 1897 his sister Elizabeth wrote to another 
brother, Charles, to record a family triumph. ‘Oh Charlie, of 
course you have not heard about Fred’s last letters. We were 
awfully excited when we first read them but it is some days ago 
and it has worn off. The great excitement is that he actually had 
the honour of shooting the big chief Mashiyangombi himself. I 
will tell you a little how it come about; it seems rather less noble 
when examined closely. Well, this big chief’s kraal was five days 
march from Salisbury. The Police . . . attacked the place. The 
enemy were in great caves out of which they kept firing heavily. 
The English could only fire at the openings where they could see 
firing. The only way to get them out was to blow the caves up 
with dynamite. This was done and no doubt heaps killed and 
buried alive. Then about 300 women and children surrendered 
and afterwards a good many men. Well, Fred was on sentry one 
night and a dreadful night it must have been as the Black Watch 
(on our side) were somehow behind him and kept up a constant 
fire on the caves, being excited and having too much of some 
native brandy stuff. The bullets were whizzing all round poor 
Fred’s head. He was sheltered by rocks tho. Well, as I was a saying, 
in the morning just as it was getting light he saw a nigger in an old 
great coat come strolling out of the enemy’s camp as if he were 
“monarch of all he surveyed”. He thought at first it could not be 
a Mashona venturing out. Then he knew he must be so fired 
according to orders. The chap was evidently hit but hid behind a 
rock and then came out again. Then Fred fired again and he went 
head over heels down the hill. He was afterwards identified as the 
great Mashiyangombi and Fred was much congratulated. The 
body was carried into camp amid great rejoicings. Last year there 
was a reward varying from £100 to £500 offered for him alive or 
dead. So Fred ought to get something now, oughtn’t he? I wish 
he might be in luck at last, dear old boy.’ 1 

Whether or not Blyth got his reward, the luck of the Hartley 
rebels had come to an end. The sight of the dead paramount 
‘much affected’ his people and as news of his death spread the 
1 Elizabeth to C. W. Blyth, 8 Sept. 1897, MISC/BL 5. 


resistance of those still in the caves ended. His caves were now 
carefully dynamited; the walls of his strongholds pulled down; 
a small police post was established on the site. His allies were 
killed or arrested. Bonda was killed some time in July or 
August during attacks by the Hussars on chief Mzitzwe’s 
people. Dekwende was arrested and sent in for trial in 
April 1898. The rising in western Mashonaland had come to an 
end. 1 

To complete the story of the rising in Mashonaland we must 
turn to events in the central districts of the province. Through the 
move there of Mkwati and the Kagubi medium and their parti- 
ally successful deployment there of the Rozwi this area became 
the really important one in 1897. Mashiangombi’s which had 
once been perfectly situated between the two rebellious provinces 
was no longer a suitable headquarters, stoutly though it was 
defended. Central Mashonaland offered many advantages now 
that the rising had become an exclusively Shona affair. It was 
‘Kagubi’s’ old area of operation where he might hope to rally 
waverers and to encourage opposition to ‘friendly’ chiefs. More- 
over it was possible from there to retreat north-east into the old 
area of the Mwene Mutapa confederacy, so far not involved in the 
rebellion but an area which would certainly provide a refuge and 
which might possibly be brought out in arms through the joint 
influence of Mkwati, Tenkela-Wamponga and the Kagubi 
medium. (It was, as we have seen, Mkwati’s intention to make for 
the Zambesi through Sipolilo if he was driven out of the rebel 

There were many signs in the first months of 1897 °f the im ~ 
portance of the return of ‘Kagubi’. As we have seen he at once 
made a tour of the paramountcies around Salisbury urging them 
not to consider surrender. Once he had settled in ‘his old home 
at Gonto in the Chikwakwa’s district ... on two almost in- 
accessible rocky promontories overlooking a small stream hard by 
Chikwakwa’s old kraal’, messengers began to come in from the 
more distant paramounts seeking for advice. On January 20th, 
for example, Morris, Acting Native Commissioner of Marendellas 

1 Bonda’s death is referred to in N.C., Hartley, to C.N.C., 12 Sept. 1897, 
N 1/1/3; the operations against Mzitzwe are described in LO 5/4/5, N 1/1/2 
and NS 1/1/1. Dekwende’s arrest is reported in N.C., Hartley, to C.N.C., 19 
Apr. 1898, N 1/1/3. 


in the absence of Edwards, reported that two women had man- 
aged to escape from a party bound for ‘Kagubi’s’ and come in to 
his office. The party, consisting of seven women ‘kept by white 
men or colonial boys’ who had been seized by the rebels at the 
outbreak of the rising, were being taken to the Kagubi medium 
as tribute. They were under the care of Mchemwa himself 
who wished to ask the medium ‘whether they were to go to 
the main road and kill white men again’. In this way ‘Kagubi’s’ 
authority was recognized by the rebels of the Mangwende para- 
mountcy. 1 

The medium began to exercise the same sort of role in relation 
to the Shona paramounts that had been exercised in the Matopos 
by the Mwari priests but without arousing the same resentment. 
He nominated a successor to paramount chief Seki, when the first 
rebel paramount was killed in January during the storming of his 
kopje by Lord Grey himself while setting an example to the new 
police. He made it plain that any paramount who surrendered 
would be ‘deposed’ and have to face the rival leadership of a more 
intransigent nominee; and he apparently planned to overthrow 
the hated Ndapfunya in Maungwe and to replace him by Miri- 
piri, the dead Makoni’s eldest son. And over and above these 
attempts to create a paramountcy structure favourable to con- 
tinued resistance he and his allies exercised a profound influence 
generally over rebel conduct throughout central Mashonaland. 
‘Gargoobi, Mali and Nyanda are at present holding a conference,’ 
wrote Native Commissioner Armstrong on May 26th, ‘and what 
they decide will be implicitly obeyed. In my opinion not a native 
in Mashonaland is to be trusted and extra care should be used in 
those districts which did not rebel last year as they firmly believe 
in the man Gargoobi.’ 2 

As this sort of evidence and speculation mounted, so the ad- 
ministration came to narrow down its targets. The original 
despondent belief that the Shona rising was so fragmented that 
only an assault on every kopje could end it gave way to the belief 
that certain paramounts were key figures and that the mediums, 
especially the ‘Kagubi’ mediums, were at the heart of the rebel- 

1 Morris to C.N.C., 20 Jan. 1897 and C.N.C.’s minute, LO 5/4/1 . 

2 Campbell to C.N.C., 22 July 1897, N 1/1/9; Grey to Rhodes, 23 Apr. 
1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C.i, Vol. 1; Armstrong to C.N.C., May 
1897, N 1/1/7. 


lion. Of the paramounts Mashanganyika and Kunzwi-Nyandoro 
were picked out as especially important to deal with. As for the 
‘Kagubi’ medium he increasingly became a prime target. Lord 
Grey himself had come to see the fighting as a contest between 
systems of belief. Africans near Chishawasha, he noted on Janu- 
ary 23rd, would not work for the Jesuit mission because ‘their 
priests’ had forbidden them to do so. ‘This you will say is an 
honourable motive,’ he told his wife, ‘and so it is; it shows their 
conduct is controlled by their religion which is more than can be 
said of many of us whites. We are at present engaged in the most 
difficult of operations, the bursting up of their faith by chevying 
their Witch Doctor from point to point and proving him to be a 
liar.’ By June Native Commissioner Campbell, who had at first 
believed that the paramounts should be the main target had come 
to see the Kagubi medium as ‘the head or king of the rebels’. It 
was all very well to plan a final attack on Mashiangombi’s, he 
wrote, but ‘the better course would be to attack and capture 
Kagubi first. Although we may gradually subdue the Mashonas 
by attacking and conquering one chief after another we will 
arrive at a solution of the native question far sooner by striking 
at . . . Kagubi. The Mashonas are aware that they cannot wipe 
us out without help and I believe would surrender but for the fact 
that Kagubi has promised to exterminate us. . . . It therefore 
stands to reason that as soon as Kagubi is caught that the spell, 
so to say, will be broken and the war over but not until then unless 
every chief is taken in detail and thoroughly crushed which with 
our present force may take from two to four years, as there are 
hundreds of strongholds yet untouched. If Mashiangombi is 
thoroughly beaten and a lot of his people killed he may give in in 
an unsatisfactory manner but he will nevertheless be in communica- 
tion with Kagubi all the time and will rise again on the first 
opportunity, should Kagubi be at large. I read in one of the local 
papers a short time ago that there was no head to the Mashona 
rebellion and that each kraal was its own empire, hence the diffi- 
culty of subduing it; but there can be no greater mistake. The 
Mashona war has as clearly defined a head as the last Zulu war: 
catch Kagubi and it will mean the same thing as it meant when 
Cetewayo was caught with regard to the Zulu war. . . . Mashia- 
ngombi’s was the centre of the rebellion last year because Kagubi 
was there. The centre of the rebellion is now the hills around the 


Umvumi river, 35 miles N.E. of Salisbury. If we capture Kagubi 
the war is over. If not, unless there is a famine among the natives, 
or we get a few thousand troops up, it may drag on for several 
years.’ 1 

Several attempts were, in fact, made to capture ‘Kagubi’. In 
February De Moleyns besieged Chiquaqua’s stronghold — ‘if you 
want to kill us’, said the defiant paramount, ‘get an impi large 
enough and come and do it’. The kraals of both Chiquaqua and 
Gondo were taken and the caves blown up but the medium had 
left shortly before. In June another attempt was made which also 
failed. In August the Hussars and police, hot from their victory at 
Mashiangombi’s, attacked ‘Kagubi the witch-doctor, Nyanda, the 
Mazoe witch-woman, and Mquati, the Matabele prophet of the 
Mlimo . . . about 40 miles north-east of Salisbury in very difficult 
granite country’. ‘Kagubi’s’ kraal was reached on August 15th; 
‘unfortunately Kagubi was found to have fled two or three days 
previously’; and the patrol had to be satisfied with burning the 
five hundred huts which had housed the mediums and their 
supporters. ‘Had we come to Kagubi’s before going to Mashia- 
ngombi’s as I advised,’ mourned Campbell, ‘we should have had 
him for certain as his kraal was no stronghold ... I feel very sick 
at not getting Kagubi.’ 2 

The elusiveness of the mediums was, indeed, becoming the sub- 
ject of a white myth as well as a Shona one. ‘Eighteen months 
ago,’ wrote Marshall Hole in The African Review, ‘hardly anyone 
except the Native Commissioners knew this Kagube, even by 
name, but during this year so much time and many valuable lives 
have been sacrificed in futile efforts to effect his capture. He is 
such a remarkable man, has fomented so much trouble and has 
baffled the British South Africa Company’s troops for so long. . . . 
He has proved a most elusive enemy and on more than one occa- 
sion when Sir Richard Martin, and his troops thought they had 
laid hands on him they have captured a nest of rebels only to find 
that their bird had flown.’ Hole commented sourly on his in- 
fluence on the Shona: ‘In Matabeleland,’ he wrote, ‘they are 

1 Grey to Lady Grey, 23 Jan. 1897, GR 1/1/1; Campbell to C.N.C., 15 
June, 1897, N 1/1/9. 

2 De Moleyns to Chief Staff Officer, 8 Feb. 1897; Roach to Officer Com- 
manding, 16 Feb. 1897; LO 5/4/1. De Moleyn’s report on operations in August 
1897, LO 5/4/5; Campbell to C.N.C., 19 Aug. 1897, N 1 /i / q . 


more reasonable, and, if prone at times to fanatical outbreaks, 
know at any rate when they are beaten.’ 1 

The paramounts proved in the end to be easier to engage than 
the Kagubi medium and they were eventually persuaded that they 
were defeated. It was a complex process of innumerable small 
actions and the relentless destruction of crops and the best way of 
illustrating it is to take the example of one paramount — Kunzwi 
Nyandoro, whose discontent with the Company regime we traced 
in Chapter Two, and whose refusal to pay tax was the first evi- 
dence of Shona discontent in 1896. Kunzwi had been left alone 
for most of 1896 since his kraal was known to be ‘a natural 
stronghold having been brought to perfection by well thought out 
artificial fortifications, the stockades being of hewn stone, ten feet 
high and at least three feet thick and loop-holed so as to command 
every approach’. As we have seen, he had been one of the para- 
mounts who flirted with Jenner’s peace negotiations but with no 
intention of surrendering. In 1897 he was still in regular contact 
with the Kagubi medium through his son, Panashe, and very 
ready to join in the new offensive planned for the end of the wet 
season. 2 

In March, at much the same time that Mashiangombi was 
astonishing Captain Nesbitt with his assault on Fort Mondoro, 
Kunzwi-Nyandoro also took the offensive. In the first week of 
March a patrol set out from Salisbury to put into effect an in- 
genious scheme for making up white deficiencies in manpower. 
This was to recruit the warlike Budja of Mtoko, who had them- 
selves thrown off administrative control in 1896, but who had 
repudiated messengers from ‘Kagubi’ and who had ‘a grudge 
against the very central Mashonas around here who helped 
Captain Brabant to subdue the Mtokos’. The idea was that these 
‘friendlies’ would move towards Salisbury, destroying crops and 
driving the rebels before them like ‘a pheasant drive’; Kunzwi- 
Nyandoro was one of the paramounts who was intended to be 
caught by this movement. The patrol had not expected to meet 
resistance on its way to Mtoko but it was soon disillusioned. On 
March 5th it was attacked by Kunzwi’s men ‘with some resolu- 
tion’ and had to fight its way through to Mtoko in the face of 
constant ambushes and night attacks. On the return journey a 

1 H.M. Hole, ‘Witchcraft in Rhodesia’, The African Review, 6 Nov. 1897. 

2 Gosling to Officer Commanding, 19 June 1897, LO 5/4/4. 


more serious attack took place. On the morning of March 15th 
the patrol and its accompanying friendlies were suddenly met with 
‘a heavy fire . . . more accurate and uninterrupted than I have 
yet seen in this country’, as the adventurous Hubert Howard 
reported. The Budja took to their heels and there seemed a danger 
that the patrol would be overwhelmed. This attack also was 
attributed to Kunzwi’s people. 1 

Not surprisingly these encounters drew white attention to 
Kunzwi. ‘From the bold way in which the natives have attacked 
us’, wrote Native Commissioner Armstrong, now in command of 
the Budja friendlies, ‘I feel that Kunzi should at once be dealt 
with and the other districts I have mentioned. A better oppor- 
tunity will never occur as we are now here with the Budja and the 
crops are nearly ripe.’ But Armstrong’s plan was frustrated by one 
of the most interesting events of the rebellion — the triumph of the 
pan-Shona teachings of the Budja mediums over the raiding 
policy of the chief. Taking advantage of chief Guripila’s death 
while storming a Shona stronghold, the mediums told their people 
that he ‘had now been killed for taking the impi to fight with the 
whites although against the wish of the witch-doctor. More than 
that’, so Armstrong lurking anxiously in the bush near the Budja 
camp overheard them say, ‘there were very few white men left in 
the country, the Mashonas spoke truth; they had nearly killed the 
lot . . . if it were not for the black men who were fighting for the 
whites, the Mashonas would easily kill the few whites left. . . . 
There were only a few whites there, let them be killed and Mtoko’s 
people would no longer be slaves to the white man.’ The Budja 
turned against Armstrong who made a forced march through the 
bush for ten days, for three of which he and his party survived on 
the meat of a pointer dog. The great ‘pheasant drive’ had not 
turned out quite as he had expected. 2 

Kunzwi-Nyandoro was still a main target of the white offensive 
— ‘the chief Kunzwi is the only chief who must be dealt with’, 
Chief Native Commissioner Taberer went so far as to say, ‘as he 
is powerful and independent and is not likely to surrender unless 
forced to do so’. But the attack would now have to be delivered 

1 Armstrong to C.N.C., 25 Feb. 1897; Howard to Grey, 12 Mar. 1897; 
Armstrong to C.N.C., 19 Mar. 1897; Howard to Grey, 20 Mar. 1897; 
LO 5/4/2. 

2 Armstrong to C.N.C., 26 May 1897, N 1/1/7. 


by the police themselves. His stronghold was still regarded as so 
formidable that this attack was delayed for as long as possible. 
Sample attacks were made on the more accessible kraals of adja- 
cent chiefs, Mashanganyika’s among them, in the hope that 
Kunzwi would be sufficiently impressed to sue for peace. At the 
end of May Father Richartz sent out messengers from Chisha- 
washa with an offer of terms and Kunzwi again flirted with the 
idea of negotiations. ‘Kunzwi has not the slightest intention of 
surrendering,’ grumbled Campbell, ‘but simply wishes to gain 
time to get his crops harvested; he is one of Kagubi’s staunchest 
supporters. . . . After our last indaba with him he sent his son 
Panashi and several of his men to Kagubi with presents and boasted 
how he had talked us over and I have no doubt he has done the 
same since Father Richartz’ messenger left him. I am convinced 
that he has at present no more intention of surrendering than we 
have of making Kagubi King of England.’ And, indeed, when it 
came to the point Kunzwi refused to talk. ‘He would not indaba ,’ 
Grey told Rhodes; ‘said it was unbecoming for a King to leave 
his kraal. Of course there is only one King in Rhodesia and that 
is the Govt, of the Queen and so he has been informed. He has 
sent away his women and prepared to fight.’ 1 

The overthrow of Kunzwi’s kingdom came on June 19th. On 
that day the police rushed his kraal in the fiercest action of 1897. 
‘The fire for an hour was something awful,’ wrote Campbell; ‘the 
niggers only left their walls after we were over them.’ On June 
22nd Campbell wrote a rejoicing epitaph. ‘Panashe (Kunzi’s son) 
came back from Kagubi the night before the fight, and said that 
Kagubi had told him that they were quite safe as the white men 
would all die as soon as they got to the walls. I would like to know 
how he is going to explain it to Kunzi after this. Ganyeri 
[Kunzwi’s own medium] at the same time sang out, “Run, run, 
run, nyika wa parara, nyika wa parara — the country is torn up.” 
A few men however still remained in the rocks below the lower 
wall and fought for a long time. Kunzi hid in the rocks till dark 
and then bolted.’ 2 

For two months Kunzwi lived the life of a fugitive, moving from 
one stronghold to another, dependent upon the hospitality of 

1 Campbell to C.N.C., 29 May 1897, LO 5/4/4; Grey to Rhodes, 19 June 
1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1., Vol. 1. 

2 Campbell to C.N.C., 19 and 22 June 1897, LO 5/4/4. 


other chiefs. It was no life for a king. On August 28th Kunzwi 
sent in 2s. 6 d. to Native Commissioner Campbell, then on patrol 
in Mrewa, offering to surrender. On September 15th Campbell 
described his negotiations with Kunzwi-Nyandoro, c a different 
man now but still as proud as ever’. ‘He said, God and Kagubi 
had done all this. I said, why do you not catch him then? He said, 
we are afraid to touch or offend Mlenga, so I said, well, Mlenga 
may do the same thing again so either bring me 72 more guns or 
leave our country. He said, you are killing me, where am I to go? 
I said, you had better ask Mlenga that, you still believe in him. 

. . . He said, what am I and my people to eat? I said, ask Mlenga 
that too.’ 1 

By the end of August and the beginning of September the sur- 
renders were coming in thick and fast — Mangwende, Soswe, 
Zwimba, Chiquaqua, Chinamora, Seki, and many others. But 
Campbell was still not satisfied. ‘We are being fooled by the 
Mashonas and only getting guns that are practically useless while 
the good ones are hidden. I am thoroughly convinced that this 
country will never be properly settled till Kagubi and the other 
chief instigators are either hung, shot or sent to Robben Island.’ 
In fact the Kagubi medium and his associates were not now many 
months away from one or other of these fates. Although they 
escaped the Hussars’ attack in August, ‘Kagubi’ and Mkwati soon 
after ran into a patrol on the Mazoe; they escaped but in the 
confusion the party broke up and it seems that Mkwati and the 
rest of the mediums were now separated. The end of Mkwati’s 
extraordinary story was now near. Until August he had con- 
tinued to speak as the interpreter of Mwari; Campbell described 
‘the cave that the Umlimo is said to talk out of . . . walled up in 
front with poles and grass’ which the police found and burnt in 
that month. But there had been reports as early as July that 
Mkwati’s life had been threatened by the disillusioned Shona. 
He appears now to have gone into the Korekore area to try to 
raise it in revolt and it was there that he met his death some time 
in late September or early October 1897. ‘The Mashonas killed 
him,’ Mhlope tells us. ‘The reason why they killed him was that 
they had already had news that he was causing trouble and when 
he came there the indunas ordered the people to kill him. . . . They 
killed him in a curious way. They cut him up in pieces while he 
1 Campbell to C.N.C., 15 Sept. 1897, N 1/1/9. 


was alive with choppers. They said if he was the man who was sent 
by the Mlimo they had better make sure he could not come to life 
again and make more trouble.’ Mkwati’s gift for extending the 
area of the rebellion had at last deserted him. 1 

His consort, Tenkela-Wamponga, lasted longer and had better 
luck. She at first planned to escape into Portuguese East Africa 
with the Nehanda medium but that project was foiled by Native 
Commissioner Kenny’s raid on their camp on November 4th. 
She then withdrew into the north and into the area of the old 
Mutapa confederacy. Her reception there was evidently a cordial 
one but she was captured in 1898 during Kenny’s ‘pacifying’ 
patrols; she had been responsible, it was said, for ‘some trouble in 
the district’. ‘She was sent for trial in Bulawayo,’ the Chisha- 
washa mission journal tells us, ‘and as apparently there was not 
sufficient evidence to convict her, her life was spared. To this day 
natives of the Chishawasha district express amazement that 
Vamuponga was spared and declare that she was the prime 
mover of the rebellion.’ 2 

Neither the Kagubi nor the Nehanda mediums were likely to 
be spared. Early in October Native Commissioner Kenny’s police 
attacked ‘Kagubi’ and his entourage in the north Mazoe district; 
the medium escaped again but ‘had all his women captured with 
the exception of about four’. Kagubi then fled into Sipolilo’s 
country where he was given rather reluctant sanctuary. But the 
net was closing in. Kenny was in Salisbury preparing a patrol to 
capture him; Native Commissioner Jackson was on a sweep 
through Lomagundi district and approaching Sipolilo. His new 
society in ruins, at long last ‘Kagubi’ decided to surrender; on 
October 27th Kenny took him into custody. ‘When Kagubi was 
20 miles from my camp I sent out 5 of my messengers to escort 
him into camp which was done,’ reported Kenny. ‘I must men- 
tion that Kagubi’s envoys when they came in wanted to know 
the terms of his surrender. ... I sent messages to Kagubi that I 
would give him no terms whatsoever, that he was to surrender 

1 Mhlope’s statement, 20 Nov. 1938, WI 8/1/3. See also a remarkable story 
in the Rhodesia Herald, 13 Oct. 1897, which held that Mkwati had been mur- 
dered by his nephew and ward, Mihe, who was the true ‘high priest’ of Mwari 
and who now resumed direction of the cult. There is no other evidence to 
support this story. 

2 Mhlope, ibid. Zambesi Mission Record, Vol. 3, No. 40, Apr. 1908. 

308 revolt in SOUTHERN RHODESIA 

unconditionally or otherwise be captured.’ In December the 
Nehanda medium, still determined not to surrender, was also 
captured by Kenny’s police . 1 

The capture of the two mediums was greeted with relief and 
enthusiasm by whites as a sure indication that the Shona rising 
was finally at an end. The week after the Kagubi medium’s arrival 
in Salisbury ‘under guard of the Native Police, who heralded his 
arrival in town by a lusty song of triumph’, the Salisbury Nugget 
celebrated the event with its own triumphant verse, under the 
heading, ‘Kagubi Vinctus’. Indifferent as verse it still breathes 
the spirit of white Rhodesian victory: 

How are the mighty fallen! Aye, mighty in bloody deeds; 
The Witch Doctor’s wives and women will soon wear widows’ 

Their Lord is fallen — his power is done, 

His rule has set — as the setting sun, 

But — never to rise again. 

How are the mighty fallen! Go look at him in his cell, 
Stripped of the bracelets and doctor’s charms, 

Stripped of his rank as well. 

A convict waiting to know his doom, 

Like a withered flower that has lost its bloom 
On a sandy desert plain. 

Spirits of innocent victims, look down on your vanquished 

Let not your friends who are living forget the revenge they 

As others have learned long years ago, 

So the young generation must learn to know 
That the White Queen means to reign . 2 

Kagubi did not have long to wait to know his doom. Two days 
after his arrest a preliminary examination into a charge of murder 

1 The surrender of Kagubi and the capture of Nehanda are described in 
detailed correspondence between N.C. Kenny and the G.N.C., Oct. to Dec. 
1897, N 1/1/6. 

2 The Nugget, 2 Nov. 1897. The editorial is a threat that the people will 
lynch ‘Kagubi’ if he is not given the death penalty. 


against him opened in Salisbury. The trial was delayed while 
further arrests were made and more evidence taken but at last he 
and the Nehanda medium were both brought to trial on the same 
day — March 2nd, 1898. He was charged with the murder of an 
African policeman on June 20th, 1896; Nehanda with the murder 
of Native Commissioner Pollard. Both were found guilty, and 
sentenced to death. The date for the execution was fixed as April 
27th; on the same day ‘Kagubi’s’ father-in-law and ally, para- 
mount chief Mashanganyika was also to die. 1 

Between the sentence and the execution the last act in the 
drama of ‘the war of heathenism against Christianity’ took place. 
Father Richartz of Chishawasha mission attended the prisoners 
in their cells and strove to convert them. At first when he spoke to 
‘Kagubi’ of religion ‘he would say, “Go to the others; I refuse.” ’ 
But one of the medium’s daughters was, remarkably enough, a 
pupil at Chishawasha school and she now added her pleas to those 
of the priest. Under her persuasions the spiritual leader of the 
rising assented to this last transformation. On Tuesday, April 
26th, Richartz was asked to tell the prisoners that they were to be 
executed the next day. ‘Kakubi showed fear and began to cry. 
Mashanganyika and Mzampi took the news quietly.’ The 
Nehanda medium, however, ‘began to dance, to laugh and talk 
so that the warders were obliged to tie her hands and watch her 
continually, as she threatened to kill herself’. Next day he made 
an attempt to talk to her about religion ‘but she refused, called 
for her people and wanted to go back to her own country — the 
Mazoe — and die there’. 

Father Richartz then went down to the Kagubi medium in the 
death cell and received him into the Catholic church while 
‘Nehanda’ was being executed above. ‘Nehanda was taken out 
onto the scaffold. Her cries and resistance when she was taken up 
the ladder, the screaming and yelling on the scaffold disturbed 
my companion, Kakubi, very much, till the noisy opening of the 
trap-door on which she stood, followed by the heavy thud of her 
body as it fell, made an end to the interruption. Though very 
much frightened, Kakubi listened to me and repeated that he 
would no longer refuse baptism. After he had made the necessary 
acts of faith, repentence, etc., I baptized him, giving him the 

1 Regina versus Kagubi, HC/M, No. 253; Regina versus Nehanda, HG/M, 
No. 252; The Rhodesia Herald, 9 Mar. 1897. 



name of the good thief, Dismas, with whom he was to share the 
great blessing of forgiveness in the hour of death. . . . The hang- 
man came and did his duty . . . Kakubi did not give the least 
trouble nor did he make any lamentation. He died . . . quiet, 
resigned and, as I hope, in good disposition.’ Thus by a final 
irony the Kagubi medium died as Dismas, among the first score 
of baptized Catholics in Mashonaland . 1 

‘Everyone felt relieved after the execution,’ confesses Father 
Richartz, ‘as the very existence of the main actors in the horrors 
of the rebellion, though they were secured in prison, made one 
feel uncomfortable.’ With their deaths, it was universally felt, the 
rebellion was finished; ‘their bodies were buried in a secret place, 
so that no natives could take away their bodies and claim that 
their spirits had descended to any other prophetess or witch- 
doctor’. The younger generation, it was hoped, now knew that the 
white Queen meant to reign . 2 

1 Richartz, ‘The End of Kakubi’, Zambesi Mission Record, Vol. i, No. 2, 
Nov. 1898. 

2 Notes by A. H. Holland, HO 7/4/2. 


The Aftermath of the Rising: 
White Attitudes and White Power 

The terrible events which we have been describing had pro- 
found effects upon the future of Southern Rhodesia. Although the 
rebels were defeated or forced to a settlement which involved 
submission to colonial rule their rebellions compelled whites to 
take Africans seriously in a variety of ways as they had not done 
before 1896. It also brought about significant changes in the 
character of white colonial rule itself, so that although it survived 
the challenge of the risings it did so in substantially different form. 
Many of these changes, though not all, were to the benefit of the 
African population in Southern Rhodesia. Thus their rebellion 
was not a futile gesture nor merely an incident in Southern 
Rhodesian history. In many ways it was a watershed; after the 
risings few things were the same as they had been before. 

We have seen how before 1896 whites believed that Africans in 
Southern Rhodesia had no concepts of religion, no coherent 
ability to act and no significant capacity to resist the pressures of 
the new colonial society. These attitudes could hardly be main- 
tained by intelligent or sensitive people after rebellions which had 
come to be seen as wars of religion, which were conspicuously 
coordinated and which showed a determination to preserve 
African ways of life. 

The experience of the risings was crucial to missionary attitudes 
and missionary hopes. For some missionaries at least the realiza- 
tion that Shona concepts of the divine could exercise such an 
influence on behaviour was a way into a more fruitful and opti- 
mistic relationship with their African flocks. The example of the 
Catholic mission at Chishawasha is a striking one. Before the 
rising their work had been painfully slow and they had often 
given way to expressions of despair. In June 1896 the mission 
station was attacked, on the direct orders of the Kagubi medium 
in whose original area of operation it was sited, ‘by natives of 


Chishawasha themselves, who had been allowed to settle on the 
land rent free’. The disillusioned Fathers believed that from their 
first occupation the Shona had planned to allow them ‘to develop 
their resources so that at a convenient season they might murder 
them all and fatten on the loot’, a plan displaying ‘a depth of 
blackness in the native heart, a meditated perfidy and a treachery 
rare even, one would hope, among savage races’. During the 
rising Chishawasha became a very important intelligence station; 
its few converts played an important role as go-betweens. One of 
them, Minyonanyane, now Joseph, was sent ahead of the Mtoko 
column to persuade Gurupira to provide friendlies in March 
1897; another, Benyura, now Victor, was used as an intermediary 
in surrender negotiations with the Shona paramounts and was 
partly instrumental in the conversion of the Kagubi medium. 
The Chishawasha community, then, was fully committed to the 
white side during the rebellion and committed also to total defeat 
and severe punishment for the rebels. 1 

But out of these experiences there gradually came an apprecia- 
tion, even if expressed in somewhat grudging terms, of the spiritual 
motivation of the rebels. This was very interestingly stated in May 
1899 by Father Boos in a jubilant article entitled ‘The Springtime 
of the Mashona Mission’. He began by recalling the depressing 
prospect which faced the mission at the end of 1897. ‘The thousand 
natives we had gathered round us with such patient toil . . . had 
been scattered like sheep, and driven from stronghold to strong- 
hold by the victorious army; we had even lost our little flock of 
neophytes, catechumens and school-children, who had been com- 
pelled to depart with the rebels. . . . Our own people, who had 
received such innumerable acts of kindness at our hands, had 
done their best to butcher us.’ It was little wonder that the Fathers 
despaired. And yet, wrote Father Boos, ‘the storm which has 
just blown over, so far from having proved the destruction of 
Christianity in Mashonaland, has in no slight degree aided its 

The rebels, after all, acted under ‘a religious duty to take up 
arms against the white usurpers’ and that fact ‘ought to go 
furthest towards exculpating them in our eyes’. ‘The incredible 

1 Viator, S.J., ‘A Visit to Chishawasha at the end of 1897’, Z am besi Mission 
Record. Vol. 1, No. 1, May 1898; ‘The history of Chishawasha Mission’, 
Zambesi Mission Record, Vol. 3, No. 40, Apr. 1908. 


happened. The degraded, cowardly race which for so many years 
had proved an easy prey to the Matabele actually dared, at the 
bidding of their prophets, to engage in a war of extermination 
with the white colonists; and though defeated again and again, 
they continued to offer a stubborn resistance from their rocky 
strongholds, buoyed up with their unwavering belief in the promise 
of the witch-doctors. If, then,’ concluded Father Boos, ‘the 
influence of superstition is capable of converting the weak and 
degraded Mashona into a strong and daring foe may we not with 
reason hope that, once thoroughly imbued with the truths of the 
Catholic faith, he will prove a sturdy soldier of Christ?’ Surely 
this mission was on the threshold of a great breakthrough, able as 
it was to offer an enduring inspiration to those now disillusioned 
with the failed prophets of Mashonaland . 1 

To Lord Grey also the fact that the Shona had appeared as ‘a 
strong and daring foe’ demanded a revision of white estimates of 
their potential; in his case he was thinking more in terms of their 
potential as workers and craftsmen. He was in fact much in- 
fluenced by a visit to Chishawasha which he made soon after his 
arrival in Mashonaland. Like Rhodes he admired the Jesuits for 
their discipline and saw the Fathers as ‘willing parts of an admir- 
able machine set in motion by brains for the service of humanity 
and God’. He was deeply impressed by what remained of their 
achievement — two little Shona boys who could sing ‘God Save the 
Queen’ in perfect tune; an absurd enough little token but one 
which convinced Grey of Shona educability. If only, he thought, 
the whites of Mashonaland could model themselves on the Fathers 
of Chishawasha — ‘light-hearted, gay, profoundly unselfish and 
hard-working to a degree which no white man in Mashonaland 
outside their order can easily comprehend. No work is too hard or 
too menial for them — manual labour in the fields as gardeners, 
farm labourers; the menial occupation of cooks, brewers, bakers, 
etc.; the handicraft of farriers, carpenters, etc.; the higher but 
more aggravating role of schoolmasters and music teachers. . . . 
Before this order of the R.C. Church, producing as it does the 
most admirable results, one must stand hat in hand; and when 
one contrasts with it the vulgar individualism of our Protestant 
churches one is obliged to admit that from the policy and action 

1 Father Boos, ‘The Springtime of the Mashona Mission’, ^cimbesi Mission 
Record, Vol. i, No. 4, May 1899. 


of these powerful and historical orders one has very very much to 
learn.’ 1 

Grey came away from his visit with a faith in the potential of 
education for the Shona greater than that of the Fathers them- 
selves. They had almost despaired; but they had only failed to 
produce results, he was convinced, because of the political circum- 
stances in which they worked. The Shona had been cowed and 
intimidated, ruled exclusively by fear and not by justice, let alone 
love. The Chishawasha schoolboys equally with though differently 
from the Shona rebels illustrated what might be done once fear 
was set aside. So Grey aspired to set up a form of government in 
which Shona potential could be realized. ‘If I were to remain 
here’, he told his wife, ‘I sometimes think I might do something 
to better this state of things — so long as I remain here my en- 
deavour will be to teach the natives that my Govt, is strong 
enough to punish them when they do wrong and to protect them 
when they do right and the white population that the employer 
who ill treats his native dependents and defrauds them of their 
just rights is a scoundrel.’ 1 

Grey’s attitude, so different from that of former white governors 
of Mashonaland, found practical expression in his attempts to en- 
courage educational experiment. ‘I want to teach the native boys 
blacksmithing, carpentry, tin-making, gardening and the girls 
washing, ironing and domestic handiwork,’ he told one of the 
Company Directors in May 1897. ‘Many people take a most 
gloomy view as to the possibility of doing anything with the 
Mashonas but I am not a pessimist on the subject, and it is our 
duty to try to make something of them.’ Grey’s plan, in fact, was a 
revolutionary one in its context; nothing less than a government 
attempt to emulate the Chishawasha approach and to take the 
lead in the transformation of Shona society through education. 
The rebellions had given the opportunity — ‘as the trouble the 
country is now passing through will in all probability produce a 
number of orphan children towards which the Administration 
may stand in loco parentis the necessary material for a promising 
experiment will be forthcoming’. The Company should set aside 
the buildings at Old Umtali with adequate capital to run ‘a 
native industrial mission’ on a large scale — ‘I shall control it as 
far as possible on healthy pagan lines, i.e., much industrial occu- 
1 Grey to his wife, 23 Jan. 1897, GR/1/1/1. 


pation and little religion, instead of all prayer and no work, and 
keep it under control of Govt.’ Grey also did his best to encourage 
more conventional mission activity in the same field. ‘You will 
find the natives quick and teachable,’ he told the American 
Methodist Episcopal Church, in flat contradiction to general 
white belief. 1 

Grey, then, came out of the risings with compassion for the 
Shona; Rhodes came out with respect for the Ndebele. The 
former, totally defeated and compelled to surrender uncondition- 
ally, were dependent altogether on the good will of their rulers — 
‘Thank God that you did not succeed in killing us’, the Chisha- 
washa missionaries told the crowds to whom they distributed food 
during the famine that followed the rising. The Ndebele, how- 
ever, had proved that they had to be taken into account; they had 
surrendered on terms and Rhodes was anxious that those terms 
should be kept. Gone was his old assumption that African atti- 
tudes didn’t matter very much; the rebellions had taught him 
that they could matter a great deal. Gone also was his old in- 
comprehension and lack of sympathy; the indabas with the 
Ndebele had caught his imagination and he kept up his relation- 
ship with the indunas not only out of necessity but also through a 
large romantic enjoyment. At any rate the contrast between the 
totally neglected condition of the indunas before 1896 and the 
priority Rhodes set upon maintaining good relations with them 
after 1896 was a very striking one. In May 1897 he expressed his 
sense of that priority when he informed the High Commissioner 
that he was unable to give evidence in the Charter inquiry in 
Britain because ‘I have arranged to visit all the Matabele chiefs 
and fulfil my pledge that I would return to them and see that my 
promises had been fulfilled’. 2 

The Ndebele chiefs were assiduously wooed in the years that 
followed the rising. Rhodes addressed a great indaba on June 23rd, 
1897, and patiently discussed problems of bride price and land 
settlement. In July he held a huge feast at his farm near the 
Matopos to celebrate his birthday; it was attended by some 1200 
Ndebele, including many of the ex-rebel leaders. The Bulawayo 

1 Grey to London Board, 8 Feb. 1897, LO 5/4/3; Grey to Cawston, 26 May 
1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 77. 

2 Rhodes to Stevens, 20 May 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 227., letter 
book 6. 


Chronicle's report of the event made a strange contrast with its 
usual social columns. ‘Scattered in groups about the kopje sides 
were picturesque groups of natives . . . including Lobengula’s 
witch-doctor, Bosaman, two of Lobengula’s queens, and one of 
his young daughters. . . . Mr Rhodes and his friends passed con- 
tinually in and out of the Matabele host holding a little indaba 
here and a little court there. . . . The aim of Mr Rhodes seems to 
be to inspire confidence in the natives, to make them believe that 
he has their welfare at heart as well as that of the whites.’ And so 
the indabas continued. In November 1897 the Ndebele indunas 
were given a ride on the newly opened railway and taken after- 
wards to the circus prior to another indaba in Bulawayo — ‘a 
marvellous performance in their eyes and probably made them 
appreciate the superiority of the whites more than anything else 
had done.’ And after another meeting on Rhodes’ farm in 1900 
the local Native Commissioner reported that it was characterized 
by ‘profound respect on the one side and open hearted friendliness 
on the other. ... I do not remember ever having seen a body of 
natives impressed in quite the same way as they were that day. It 
seemed to me that were he so to desire he might become their 
own elected leader.’ 1 

Rhodes played this new role with great success until his death 
but it was not enough in itself to meet the situation. More tangible 
promises had been made and had to be kept, partly because of the 
need still felt to pacify the Ndebele and partly because of the 
pressures upon the Company for reform which the rebellions 
coming as the climax of its hectic career had brought into being. 
Rhodes and Grey had promised a new system of native administra- 
tion in which would be employed more and better qualified 
commissioners; this was also the demand of the imperial authori- 
ties, and especially Milner, now High Commissioner in South 
Africa. Sir Richard Martin, charged with producing a report on 
the administration of Rhodesia, had found the Company guilty 
of maladministration and injustice, and although Grey and 
Rhodes hotly contested his findings in detail there was no doubt 
that reforms would have to be made. It was for this reason that 
Rhodes had brought Milton up in August 1896 and Milton was 
soon possessed by a dislike of the adventurism of the Jameson 
period as great as Sir Richard Martin’s. 

1 Report of the Native Commissioner, Malema, Sept. 1900, LO 5/7/4. 


‘It is of immense importance to the future of South Africa that 
we should use the present opportunity to get the administration 
of Rhodesia into something like order,’ Milner told Grey in June 
1897. 'As far as I can make out . . . there is a great improvement 
going on in this respect. I think . . . everybody must admit that 
there was great need of improvement.’ In the months that followed 
Milner and Grey discussed the regulations appropriate to the 
Native administrative system; the scrupulous care of both men 
over the matter was in striking contrast to the settlement which 
followed the 1893 war. In November 1897 Milner went to 
Rhodesia to see things for himself. He found it ‘an eye-opener’; 
‘things in Rhodesia are in a pretty handsome mess administratively’. 
‘Between ourselves’, he wrote on December 1st, ‘it is a bad story. 
On the one hand land alienated in the most reckless manner to 
Companies and individuals, on the other hand a lot of unfit 
people were allowed to exercise power, or at any rate did exercise 
it, especially with regard to the natives in a manner that cannot 
be defended. I know the difficulties were enormous. Perhaps they 
explain the failure but failure it was, and the rebellion was largely 
due to it.’ ‘On this difficult and most important question of the 
Native Commissioners,’ wrote Milner, ‘I took it upon myself to 
speak very strongly to both Milton and Rhodes.’ 1 

Rhodes himself had at last been convinced that the days of 
adventurism in Rhodesia were over; convinced by his talks with 
the Ndebele indunas as much as by his talks with Milner. ‘The 
Company — or in other words Rhodes and his principal agents — 
recognize this administrative weakness themselves’, wrote Milner; 
‘they almost admit it — and they are certainly trying to get 
things right’. The new Native Department was a very different 
place from its predecessor in the days of Colenbrander and 
Brabant. Brabant himself, conspicuously a figure from another 
age, having been officially cleared of allegations of cruelty to 
African prisoners during the rebellion, was now planning a fili- 
bustering raid on the cattle of Barotseland; detected by Milton he 
was quietly sent packing with a small gratuity as a remembrance 
of the old days. It was the spirit of his successor, Taberer, which 
triumphed now. In 1897 Native Commissioner Staples, who had 
been placed in charge of Umlugulu’s district, was dismissed on the 

1 Milner to Grey, 6 June 1897; Milner to Selborne, 29 Dec. 1897; Milner 
to Chamberlain, 1 Dec. 1897; Headlam, op. cit., Vol. 1. 


grounds that he was neglecting his African charges: ‘He does not 
appear to have studied their interests to that extent which would 
prove conducive to the progress of the country, as far as the 
Native question is concerned.’ ‘The importance of the native 
question is at present so great’, Staples was told, ‘that the Govern- 
ment is able to retain only those officials who prove themselves 
fully qualified for the work.’ 1 

As for the administration generally the spirit of that ‘red-tape’ 
which Rhodes and Jameson had scorned now dominated. Milton, 
succeeding Grey as Administrator, laid the foundations of a regu- 
lar civil service. ‘I can hardly describe the thin, evasive, official 
atmosphere of this place’, wrote a correspondent nostalgic for the 
days of Jameson describing Milton’s Salisbury in July 1898, ‘in 
which there is none of the robust commercial vitality and imagina- 
tion of Bulawayo. It is an air so rarefied that new ideas fall to the 
ground like birds in the high mountain regions of Thibet, unable 
to obtain support for their wings.’ It was to him ‘of all mental 
attitudes the most discouraging. ... It is like returning to the 
High Table at College where all goes easily and the storms of the 
outside world sound far away.’ Milner, more appreciatively noted 
that ‘ there is great amendment and . . . the position of the black man 
in Rhodesia is now probably more hopeful than in any part of 
South Africa not under direct imperial control, except Natal.’ 2 

These good intentions extended even to the vexed question of 
land. Once again it was a compound of Grey’s interest in reform, 
Rhodes’ promises to the Ndebele, and the pressure of the imperial 
authorities, especially Martin. Rhodes, as we have seen, promised 
adequate land to the Ndebele at the second indaba and later 
allowed the senior indunas to settle on the land which they had 
occupied before 1893. Martin, although he did not mention the 
question in his report, had become convinced that the land re- 
served for the Ndebele after 1893 was quite inadequate. In April 
1897 he wrote a scathing memorandum. The areas ‘appear never 
to have been inhabited by the Matabele . . . the districts in 

1 C.N.C. to Rhodes’ Secretary, 25 July 1898; C.N.C. to Deputy Admin- 
istrator, 19 Dec. 1897; Deputy Administrator to Staples, 22 Feb. 1898; Rhodes 
House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1, Vol. 1. Staples argued in his defence that he had 
only neglected the interests of Basutos and Makalangas and not Ndebeles! 

2 Sargent to Rhodes, 30 July 1898, ibid; Milner to Asquith, 18 Nov. 1897, 
Headlam, op. cit. 


question are not looked upon as desirable places for settlement’; 
most of the land, in fact, was ‘unsuitable for native locations’. 
Grey and Milton were both anxious to tackle the problem. ‘Land 
is our great difficulty,’ wrote Grey in May 1897; ‘it has all been 
given away. I will not give away another acre until the Native 
question has been settled, so those people who have not pegged 
out the land they are entitled to peg or have not got provisional 
titles must wait until I have the native reserves all tied up.’ 1 

In the same month Grey wrote at length to Rhodes on the sub- 
ject. ‘We must secure for the native some means of escaping from 
a farm where the conditions of his tenancy prevent him from 
choosing his own employer to a bit of land where he can live 
under conditions which secure him freedom of choice as to his 
employer, and this opens up the whole question of Government 
Reserves. As a first step it will be necessary to inform owners of 
rights to titles who have not exercised their rights and obtained 
title . . . that we cannot give titles until we are satisfied that the 
land so pegged would not be required for Native Locations. . . . 
The second step will be, I fear, the quiet buying up for the Com- 
pany of farms recommended for the purpose of Native Locations 
by the Chief Native Commissioner. Unless we can provide a 
government farm or two in each Native Commissioner’s District 
for Native Reserves, Martin will insist upon an independent re- 
port by some Imperial officer as to the suitability of the Guai and 
Shangani Reserves for natives and it would be a nasty shock for 
us if a report were to come out at this time condemning the Guai 
and Shangani Reserves as wholly unsuitable. . . . This makes an 
additional reason why we should establish Native Reserves in 
every district but the real reason to my mind is that this policy is 
required in the interests of the country and of the native also. This 
buying up of Private Farms for Native Reserves means a big ex- 
penditure but I do not see how it can be avoided — an inquiry into 
the character of the Guai and Shangani Reserves will bring out 
the fact that they are regarded by the natives as cemeteries not homes. 
... It will cost a lot of money, I fear about £50,000, to get the 
land we want. The question is can our finances stand it? If it can 
I have no hesitation in saying, and Milton agrees with me, that 
we ought to face it.’ 2 

1 Grey to Cawston, 26 May 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 77. 

2 Grey to Rhodes, 26 May 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1, Vol. 1. 


So the titled fortune-hunters found that the climate of 1897 and 
1898 had become as chilly for them as for the Brabants. In 
November 1897 the Hon. H. F. White, Colonel commanding the 
Mashonaland Mounted Police during the Jameson Raid, and 
very much one of the aristocratic supporters of Jameson whom 
Milton so much disliked, appealed to Rhodes. ‘I pegged out 70,000 
morgen in the Inyanga district. . . . After a delay of 2 months, I 
being £100 out of pocket, one of the Trinity who are supposed to 
rule these territories informed me that the land was required for 
natives and he would see me d ... d if I should have it. This 
was one knock down blow only to be followed by another. I 
distinctly understood in my interview with yourself, Grey and 
Lawley, that I might peg land in Matabeleland if I could find it; 
well it was found, pegged and approved of under Lawley’s signa- 
ture, surveyed and provisionally registered. I am now informed 
that my syndicate . . . must pay for it. . . . They say the Council 
cannot give land in Matabeleland. ... I am sick of trying to deal 
with the Chartered Company. We poor devils who had anything 
to do with that accursed Transvaal affair get all the kicks.’ White 
felt very much out of his element in a world in which, as he wrote 
bitterly in the same letter, ‘the Indunas are staying at Government 
House; Babyan is very irate at not being allowed to take Lady 
Hely Hutchinson down to dinner; the Kaffirs are having mealies 
ridden out to their kraals and dumped there by British South 
Africa Company wagons’. It was all very different from the days 
of Jameson. 1 

On these matters — native administration, land, support for 
industrial education — Rhodes, Grey and Milton were prepared, 
with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to push reforms themselves. 
But the new atmosphere after the rebellion extended further than 
that. The question of how Africans were treated in Rhodesia had 
become a matter of wide public interest in Britain. Before 1896 
the Company administration had certainly had its critics but 
there was little interest or knowledge about its routine administra- 
tion. After the rebellion there runs throughout Milton’s corres- 
pondence in his early years as Administrator a constant sense of 
the vigilance of the philanthropic groups in Britain and of the 
limitation which this implied. This limitation was felt most in the 
field of measures designed to procure African labour. Sir Richard 
1 H. F. White to Rhodes, 9 Nov. 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C, 27. 


Martin had accused the Company of forcing labour before the 
rising. After it the British Government showed an unusual vigi- 
lance on the question. Rhodes and Grey had originally proposed 
that the salaried indunas should be given a bonus according to the 
number of men they sent in to work; this was the one aspect of 
their proposed new administrative system that was vetoed by the 
Secretary of State. Subsequently various projects were mooted 
for ensuring a supply of labour. Settler pressure was strong — ‘You 
cannot conceive how near the brink of disaster we are,’ wrote one 
of Rhodes’ correspondents. ‘There is abundance of labour in 
Rhodesia to satisfy present requirements but it will not turn out 
and I fear the Govt, feel that their hands are tied by the Colonial 
Secretary and Exeter Hall.’ But Milton’s administration was un- 
able, though anxious, to meet the demand of the employers for ‘a 
really good man who should be appointed Secretary of Labour 
for Rhodesia’ or for an increase in hut tax to compel Africans to 
work. ‘I received yesterday a cable from the Board saying that 
the Imperial Government had finally decided that we should have 
nothing to do with recruiting of labour,’ wrote Milton to Rhodes 
on January 2nd, 1902, ‘so that is settled. Everyone here agrees 
that it will have a bad effect on the native mind but of course no- 
one at home is influenced by such considerations.’ ‘I asked the 
Board some time ago,’ he went on, ‘whether they thought that I 
should try to get the labour tax of £2 through this year. Fox told 
me that in deference to Chamberlain’s wishes Grey did not refer 
to it in his speech to the shareholders. I have had no reply.’ A few 
days later he commented on a despairing suggestion from Rhodes 
that one way to get African labour for the mines would be to pro- 
vide kaffir beer at them — ‘I am sure that in reasonable quantities 
and under regulation it would be good for the natives but the 
mere mention of supplying “beer” would give Fox Bourne and 
Co. a fit. If we could only call it “Rapoko Tea” they would be 
charmed.’ Milton resented but was always very well aware of the 
fact that even his reformed administration was regarded with 
suspicious vigilance; to the philanthropists, he wrote bitterly, his 
administrative record was four years of ‘tyranny and oppression 
to which the wicked administration has subjected the natives’. 1 

1 McDonald to Rhodes, 23 Apr. 1901; McDonald to Jourdan, 18 Feb. 1901; 
Milton to Rhodes, 2 Jan. 1902, 25 Jan. 1902; Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 
228, C. 1, Vol. 2. 


On this issue of labour Rhodes was violently indignant with the 
philanthropic and imperial stand. On January 20th, 1898, he 
gave an interview to the Daily Chronicle. ‘The report sent to Eng- 
land by Sir Richard Martin, and the faddists of Exeter Hall and 
amongst the Aborigines Protection Society have stopped our 
original plan of obtaining black labour, and the result you see 
before you, as although I have at least a couple of hundred able- 
bodied native men on my farm I cannot get a dozen to work in 
the garden or fields. . . . Their ancestors have generally been 
warriors, who but rarely did menial work except to help their 
women plant enough corn to support them and their families. 
“Now,” they say, “the white men want to make us work in their 
mines and fields. But no — we do not want their money. We have 
done without it in the past — why should we work unless we wish 
to?” Until recently we could have got them to work for us in 
return for permission given them to live on our land, but even that 
is stopped now; and beyond collecting a hut tax of ten shillings 
a year, we are powerless. It is really too absurd and the British 
faddist has dealt us — and me personally — the worst blow that has 
yet fallen on Rhodesia.’ ‘With these misguided enthusiasts,’ 
echoed Rhodesia , ‘there is no medium between idleness and 
slavery; honest labour under the guiding and protecting hand of 
their own fellow countrymen is strictly condemned.’ But much as 
Rhodes might fret at the intolerable spectacle of African idleness 
— ‘the native lives the life of a retired gentleman and ruffles it 
with other braves at the different beer drinkings without a thought 
for the future’ — there was little that could be done in the after- 
math of the rising. For a period at least the Rhodesian administra- 
tion was ‘tied by the Colonial Secretary and Exeter Hall’. 1 

Finally, in addition to Grey’s compassion for the Shona and 
Rhodes’ respect for the Ndebele, to the missionary glimpse of un- 
suspected African potential and Milton’s zeal for an efficient 
administration, to the Company’s realization that it must set its 
house in order and the pressure of the philanthropists upon the 
imperial and Rhodesian governments, there was another very 
important emotion produced by the rebellions and sustained by 
their memory — fear. Gone for a period at least was the armour of 
self confidence which had carried the handful of whites through 
before 1896. The sudden unsuspected risings in which the house- 

1 Rhodesia, 18 Dec. and 12 Feb. 1898. 


servants, the customers in the stores, the respectful old men, sud- 
denly turned into killers, burnt themselves deep into white 
Rhodesian consciousness. The settlers bitterly resented what they 
regarded as the new coddling of Africans. ‘Some little disgust is 
being expressed by the Bulawayo citizens at the growing famili- 
arity adopted by the natives in town, who coolly take possession 
of the footpaths and calmly jostle the white settlers, their wives 
and daughters, in calm disregard of class distinction and pro- 
priety, 5 wrote Rhodesia in February 1898. ‘On a platform at Exeter 
Hall, with a crowd of dainty ladies around, and a sea of be- 
spectacled faces beaming philanthropically on the spokesman, 
one will hear such sentiments expressed as equality for black and 
white, the noble example of sharing your room and crust of bread 
with your black brother or sister as the case may be, but it would 
be rather curious to note the effect of a sudden contact between 
a dirty, greasy, woolly-headed, naked, flat-footed and thick- 
lipped, raw Mashona and a dainty old lady of benevolent appear- 
ance and cleanly instincts. The long, deep and wide grin of the 
nigger cavity, called a mouth by courtesy, would be a strange 
contrast to the puckered corners of the lady’s rosebud mouth 
drawn down in prim disgust. Imagine in future an Exeter Hall 
erected in Cape Town or Bulawayo, wherein shall assemble all 
the well-to-do settlers and with strong denunciations protest 
against the downtrodden race of coal-heavers, who are considered 
unfit to associate with fashionable ladies in England. 5 This sort of 
thing did not show either compassion or respect, but it concealed 
fear, and fear could sometimes have the same results. 1 

In the months after the rebellions there were several panics in 
rural districts in both Matabeleland and Mashonaland in which 
whites went into laager on rumours of renewed rebellion. This 
happened in Melsetter in the far east of Mashonaland where there 
had been no rising in 1896; it happened in Enkeldoorn, the area 
which Rhodes had declared totally free of rebels in 1897, where 
the farmers refused to leave the laager in January 1898 unless 
their families were allowed to stay there and all Africans were 
forced to live under observation in locations; it happened in the 
same area again in July 1898 when a rumour of a rising in Chili- 
manzi was widely believed, and another laager was set up; it 
happened in the Inyanga district in March 1904 when it was 

1 Rhodesia, 12 Feb. 1898. 


believed that Makoni and Mutassa — the ‘loyal’ Ndapfunya and 
the ‘loyal’ Mutassa of 1896-7 — had agreed to initiate a general 
rising. ‘During the past few months’, wrote the Chief Staff Officer, 
‘there have been scares amongst the white inhabitants in several 
districts, resulting from reports that have gained currency out of 
all proportion to their importance, and in some cases these scares 
have been augmented rather than allayed by the ill timed pre- 
cautionary measures of the British South Africa Police. . . . Their 
normal condition should be one of preparedness for any emergency 
so that no action calculated to invite comment or create alarm 
will be necessary in the event of rumours or unconfirmed reports 
of native unrest.’ 1 

Town dwellers shared these fears also. Throughout 1897 Bula- 
wayo felt very vulnerable to a sudden Ndebele attack; nine years 
later the new settler population of Livingstone, just over the 
border from Southern Rhodesia, demanded rifles so that they 
could defend themselves from any sudden rising. Supposing, the 
Livingstone Pioneer and Advertiser asked, with vivid memories of 1896, 
the Lozi were to rise or the tribes in the northern part of Southern 
Rhodesia; ‘How would we stand then? Alone, and if thus isolated 
and inadequately equipped another dark page would be added 
to the already dark-enough history of Africa. Our stations would 
be wiped out, murder (and worse) rampant, and each man fight- 
ing desperately for his life — nor could all the courage and heroism 
of the white man avert the calamity. It was only the other day 
that things looked ominous in Natal — a day may dawn when we 
are confronted with the like.’ 2 

Nor was it possible to dismiss these fears as absurd. Africans 
continued to demonstrate readiness to hit back. There was a 
rising in north-eastern Mashonaland in 1900 which we shall dis- 
cuss in the next chapter; there was a rising in the Zambesian 
territories of Portuguese East Africa as late as 1917 which the 
Native Department feared might spread into Mashonaland. And, 
of course, there were risings in other parts of East and Central 
Africa, notably the Maji-Maji outbreak in German East Africa 
in 1905, to remind anyone who had forgotten of the possibility of 
insurrection. Moreover, though they tried not to reveal it, the 
Native Commissioners themselves were by no means confident in 

1 See files DE 1/2/9, A 1 1/2/12/1 1 and A 1 1/2/12/12. 

2 The Livingstone Pioneer and Advertiser , 10 Mar. 1906. 


this period that another revolt was out of the question. Native 
Commissioner Hulley of Umtali district, who made a bland 
public statement in November 1903 that there was ‘no foundation 
whatever’ for rumours of unrest, was at the same time writing 
confidentially: ‘I am firmly convinced that we are in for such a 
row as we have not had up here yet. I do not say that there are 
any tangible facts to lay hold of. ... I do not believe that I am a 
coward or a pessimist . . . yet I never travel now without being 
armed. There are things which cannot be explained yet the whole 
attitude of the natives leads one to believe that they are going to 
have another slap at us.’ In December he wrote again: ‘I have 
arrived at the opinion that the natives in this country intend to 
rise. . . . There are looks which natives give white people which 
cannot be expressed; there are tones of voices and gestures.’ 
Morris from Marandellas agreed that ‘certain Mashona tribes 
will again rebel. . . . The natives, though outwardly satisfied and 
peaceable, object to our rule. It only requires a witch doctor who 
has been fortunate in the past and has obtained a footing as a true 
prophet to prophesy destruction of the whites to get the majority 
of the tribes to rise.’ Edwards from Mrewa expressed his un- 
easiness: ‘There is some unexplainable feeling of unrest amongst 
the natives. Superstition is at the bottom of it without a doubt . . . 
the natives blame us for the last dry season, we having killed their 
principal rain doctor in Nyanda who was hung in Salisbury after 
the rebellion, and from conversations I have had with some of the 
natives I am of opinion that another dry season and a famine 
was prophesied by some leading witch doctor and a method of 
preventing this happening was no doubt also given by the same 
authority.’ Similar fears were expressed in 1915 when the Super- 
intendent of Natives, Salisbury, commenting upon Mwari 
activity and suspected links with the Germans, wrote: ‘I do not 
wish to pose as an alarmist [but] those well acquainted with the 
natives of this territory know how easily their superstitions can 
be worked on by a bold and clever witch-doctor, and if the Mlimo 
in the Matopos and Nyanda were to persuade them to rise, they 
would, I believe, do so.’ Even as late as 1923, at the time of the 
change from Company rule to Responsible Government, reports 
of instructions by Mwari messengers to hide grain in the hills was 
causing official concern. 1 

1 The views of Hulley, Morris, Edwards and many other Native Com- 


As for the police the lessons they drew from 1896-7 were set on 
paper in the Staff Officers’ memorandum from which we have 
quoted before. ‘It cannot be said that rebellion is a thing of the 
past. Sporadic and local revolts may take place in the future. 
Some supposed wrong or grievance, some law that is irksome, or 
some fanatic with more brain than usual, may easily fan the flame 
of discontent into revolt. A general rebellion, in the sense that all 
tribes throughout Southern Rhodesia will rise simultaneously, is 
out of the question in future. . . . What may, however, be antici- 
pated is some local outburst, followed by others in adjoining 
localities, which if not quickly quelled may lead to their spreading 
rapidly throughout the country.’ In future the Africans must be 
‘closely watched for signs of discontent, and any evidence of large 
desertions from employment, removal of grain and cattle, etc., 
etc., be at once investigated. To have some knowledge of the 
probable strength and fighting method of the native, as well as 
the nature of his armament and the locality of his strongholds is 
essential, as well as the probable grouping of tribes in an emer- 
gency and the likely leaders.’ 1 

Fear of rebellion, then, meant that the whites, or some of them, 
had to seek to understand the Africans, at any rate at this sort of 
level. It also acted as a restraint on the enforcement of measures 
which might provoke a rising. While before 1896 it was believed 
that whatever provocation was given the Shona especially would 
never rebel, after 1896 it was realized that they might rebel again 
if provoked too far. This at least was gained by their commitment 
to the risings. We may give one concrete example of the way in 
which this factor worked to protect Africans in Southern Rhodesia 
after the rebellion from the extremes of exploitation. 

As we have seen the Company and also industrial employers of 
labour in Southern Rhodesia wished to increase the hut tax and 
to force Africans to seek paid employment. In 1903 the new 
Legislative Council passed an enactment raising the tax from ioi'. 
a year to £2 a year. At once voices were raised against this in- 
crease from some unexpected quarters. 1903 was a year of rumours 
of renewed African preparations to rise; of meetings near Great 
Zimbabwe; of the emergence of a new religious leader. These 

missioners may be found in file A 11/2/12/11; S/N, Salisbury, to C.N.C., 
24 Apr. 1915, N 3/33/3. 

1 Staff study of the 1896 rebellions, PA 1/1/3. 


rumours were linked with the proposed tax increase. Many 
settlers remembered 1896 and what they regarded as the sacrifice 
of their interests to the immoral considerations of capital and 
feared a repetition. Rhodesia, wrote a local correspondent to the 
Financial News in November 1903 was ‘on the eve of another of 
those sanguinary revolts which have twice broken out in that still 
half conquered piece of South Africa’; the revolt was being 
planned because of the new tax demand, and what was more, so 
the correspondent asserted, ‘a revolt would be welcome to the 
promoters of most of the Rhodesian gold mining companies. These 
ventures are now in a bad way and a native rising would give them 
an excuse for reconstruction.’ The farmers of Melsetter, of all 
Rhodesians the least likely to harbour sentimental negrophile 
views, protested against the tax on the grounds that it would pro- 
voke unrest. And protests came also from white South Africa. ‘It 
will be remembered that the Legislative Council of Rhodesia not 
long ago increased this tax from ioj - . to 40^. per hut per year. To 
increase such a tax by no less than 300% at one stroke of the pen,’ 
wrote the South African News , ‘does not indicate commonsense 
administration, to say nothing of statesmanship. . . . The Rho- 
desian Government owes it to the rest of South Africa to investi- 
gate the circumstances, weigh the natives’ view of the case and set 
its house in order. ... It is hardly necessary to point out that it 
behoves all governments in South Africa to keep an alert eye upon 
any possible source of native complications.’ 1 

In this context the imperial authorities were able to present the 
argument of African unrest as a decisive one in refusing to accept 
the tax increase. On July 29th, 1903, the Colonial Secretary 
minuted that he could only approve the increase ‘on being 
assured that no serious trouble is to be feared from the increased 
tax. I shall require definite assurance of the Resident Com- 
missioner to this effect before I assent.’ Such assurance was not 
forthcoming. The Resident Commissioner expressed the view that 
the increase would have an ‘unsettling effect on the natives calcu- 
lated to endanger security and good order in the country’. So, 
acting on the principle that ‘the governing consideration is that 
there should be no risk of native disturbance’, the Colonial 
Secretary refused to sanction an increase of more than ten shillings 

1 The Daily News, 5 Nov. 1903; South African News, 5 Apr. 1904; N.C. 
Melsetter, to Administrator, 13 Nov. 1903, A 1 1/2/12/1 1. 


a year, and imposed a year’s delay upon the collection of that 
additional ten shillings. 

The lessons of this incident as they emerge from the correspond- 
ence of the Colonial Secretary and his High Commissioner may be 
taken as an expression of the lessons of the 1896-7 risings generally. 
Writing to the High Commissioner on June 8th, 1904, about the 
reports of African unrest which had preceded his decision on the 
hut tax issue, Colonial Secretary Lyttelton remarked that in 
future business of this sort ‘the attitude of the natives will have 
to be taken into account’. To this High Commissioner Milner 
assented. Africans in Southern Rhodesia still hoped, so the 
Resident Commissioner informed him, that ‘the white man has 
not come to stay and that the day will come when they will re- 
gain their country and their independence. This emphasizes the 
expediency to avoid giving the natives of the territory any 
common grounds for considering themselves wronged or unjustly 
treated.’ 1 

Thus in all kinds of ways after the rebellions expression was given 
to a new realization that ‘the attitude of the Africans will have 
to be taken into account’. Much though they had lost through the 
rebellions the Africans of Southern Rhodesia had these gains to 
show. It was not only a matter of the good bargain struck for their 
caste by the senior Ndebele indunas but also a matter of mingled 
white fear and guilt and compassion which resulted in some 
efforts being made to reform, in some efforts being made to 
understand, and in a reluctance to push Africans too far in future. 
All this was very important. And yet the rebellions were great 
and complex events occurring in an infinitely complex situation. 
Their effects were not simple nor did they all point in the same 
direction. If in many ways the effects of the risings strengthened 
the African position in Southern Rhodesia — by comparison, that 
is, with their position under the Company regime between 1890 
and 1896 — they also strengthened the position of the white settlers. 

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to recall the definition 
of Grey’s new native policy which we quoted above. The rights 

1 Chamberlain to Milner, 29 July 1903; Resident Commissioner to High 
Commissioner, 29 May 1903; Lyttelton to Lawley, 7 Nov. 1903; Graham to 
London Board, 4 Dec. 1903; C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 717, pp. 351, 413-14, 615, 
655. Lyttleton to Milner, 8 June 1904; Milner to Lyttelton, 25 July 1904; 
C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 746, pp. 239-40; 327; 407-8. 


and powers of the Ndebele indunas were to be restored in so far 
as was compatible with white supremacy. We must now ask what 
white supremacy meant in the context of the period after the 
rebellions and to what extent meaningful reform and redress of 
African grievance was compatible with it. Which whites — to 
begin with — were to be supreme? 

It is a commonplace that what most distinguishes the history 
of Southern Rhodesia from that of, say, Kenya is the success of 
the Southern Rhodesian settlers in obtaining political control. 
For this difference between the two colonies there are, of course, 
many reasons. One reason emerges from what we have already 
said of the early history of Southern Rhodesia. From the very 
beginning the settler element was of crucial importance there; 
unlike any other colony in East and Central Africa it began with 
the arrival on its soil of settlers — the Pioneers of 1890. From the 
very beginning its economy was dependent upon white enterprise; 
what opportunities there were of cashing in on existing African 
trade or gold washing or of creating an African cash crop economy 
were ignored. From the beginning, also, the settlers were deeply 
involved in the processes of administration; they had no control 
over policy and no representation politically but their armed 
support was essential to the success of the colony. Kenya, of course, 
was very different in all these respects; by the time settlers in sig- 
nificant numbers were established there the Southern Rhodesian 
whites already enjoyed representation on the legislative council. 
Moreover, the Southern Rhodesian enterprise had from the 
beginning a more forceful thrust; it was a projection out of the 
South African colonies and drew men and money from them as 
well as from Britain; compared to the German or British Com- 
panies in East Africa we have said the British South Africa Com- 
pany could draw upon greatly superior resources. So, in the last 
resort, could the white settler community. As the Cape Times wrote 
in June 1896 the interest of the whites of Rhodesia in defeat- 
ing the Ndebele and Shona risings was the interest of all white 
South Africa. There was a danger, it wrote in a call for aid to the 
Rhodesians, that ‘the handful of whites might be swept away by 
the flowing tide of savagery, a deluge which the whole civilization 
of South Africa was interested in staying at all costs. Would we do 
the same for the Free State or the Transvaal as for Rhodesia? 
We answer, with Mr Innes, Against the black foes — yes!’ It may 


be that with this sort of support available ‘against the black foes’ 
the white settlers of Rhodesia were destined from the beginning 
to achieve supremacy in the territory. 1 

Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the situation produced 
by the rebellion resulted in the acceleration of white settler 
advance. As we have seen the settler communities of Matabeleland 
and Mashonaland were bitterly resentful at the Company’s failure 
to protect them and their families — ‘There is a bitter feeling among 
many in town about the incompetency of the British South Africa 
Company to rule the country,’ wrote Carnegie from Bulawayo in 
May, 1896. That bitter feeling became stronger as the rebellion 
continued and as most whites reacted against Rhodes’ negotiations 
with the Ndebele and the evacuation of the Imperial troops. 
In November 1896, for instance, it was reported that in Bulawayo 
‘people are asking “What is to prevent an attack? What pre- 
cautions are being taken to prevent an attack? What show would 
men and women have in the outskirts of the town should even a 
hundred rebels attack with their knobkerries alone? Are we 
altogether dependent on the forbearance of fully armed rebels, 
who are well aware of our defenceless position. ... Is the Govern- 
ment so impressed with the Matabele desire for peace that they 
take no precautions whatever? Is there another town from Cape 
Town to the Zambesi so utterly defenceless as Bulawayo is at this 
moment?” ’ 2 

Feeling in Salisbury was even more bitter. There, after all, the 
whites had to face the consequences of the failure of Rhodes’ policy 
of conciliation and withdrawal, while in Matabeleland in 1897 
most settlers came gradually to realize that it had been successful 
there. In April 1897 the Salisbury Chamber of Mines unani- 
mously passed a resolution that ‘misleading statements have been 
officially made as to the condition of Mashonaland, causing a 
totally erroneous idea of the state of the rebellion to be entertained 
in Europe’. It was in Salisbury that the most vocal critics of Com- 
pany rule were based in 1896 and 1897. 3 

And at this time, of course, the existence of such criticism was 
highly dangerous to the Company. As Carnegie wrote in December 
1896 the great question was, ‘Is the Company to continue? It’s 

1 Cape Times, 30 June 1896. 2 Cape Times, 18 Nov. 1896- 

3 Resolution of the Salisbury Chamber of Mines, Apr. 1897; C.U., C.P.> 
S.A., No. 517, p. 544. 


part imperialism now which rules the country and it’s very diffi- 
cult to state how far they are distinct or how near they are to 
be related to one another.’ As a result of the Jameson Raid and 
the rebellions investigations into the Company’s affairs were 
being made by Parliament and by the British government. Clearly 
the constitutional position would be changed in some way and 
clearly there was a distinct possibility of the Charter being re- 
voked and direct imperial control being asserted. As we have 
seen Rhodes managed to avoid one threat to the Charter by 
coming to terms with the Ndebele and getting the imperial 
troops out. But this made the settler threat all the more acute. 
A good deal of sympathy was felt for the settlers in Britain 
even amongst the most convinced critics of Company malad- 
ministration; if anything like a unanimous settler demand for 
imperial rule were to be voiced the Company’s position would 
be gravely endangered. In short for Rhodes to complete his 
rescue operation the settlers had to be “squared” as well as the 
Ndebele. 1 

In so far as this could be done in fiscal terms it was done; very 
generous compensation was paid to settlers who had lost property 
in the risings. But this alone was not enough; the settlers were 
determined to extract payment in constitutional terms. ‘The 
reform, we take it, towering above all others,’ wrote the Rhodesia 
Herald in November 1896, ‘is that of the present constitution of 
the Government and the administration of the country. The 
Government of this country is unique. No other civilized nation 
in the world can furnish us with a parallel. It is a deplorable fact 
that the white inhabitants of the country who have shed their 
blood and risked their lives in fighting the battles of the Chartered 
Company . . . are placed politically speaking on a level with the 
blood-thirsty Matabele and the cowardly, treacherous Mashona, 
their deadly enemies. We have hitherto had no voice in the 
affairs of the country and we venture to state that the interests 
of the Company have suffered severely in consequence. . . . Of 
course ... we must creep before we can walk and walk before we 
can run. The rule by the Chartered Company can be regarded as 
the creeping, the semi-elective system the walking and ultimate 
responsible government as the running stage.’ The opportunity 

1 Carnegie to Thompson, 12 Dec. 1896, L.M.S., Matabele Mission, Vol. 5, 
No. 102. 


had now come, it was seen, to move from the creeping to the 
walking stage. 1 

It is in this context that we must see Rhodes’ speech to the 
leaders of settler opinion in Salisbury on November ioth, 1896. 
‘The Salisbury people are all in an excessively discontented state,’ 
wrote Lady Victoria Grey. ‘They say they are neglected in having 
neither Father or Mr Rhodes there (the truth is they are jealous 
of Bulawayo), so Daddy feels he ought to go as soon as he can 
possibly leave here.’ In the event it was Rhodes who went to hold, 
so to speak, his indaba with the whites. In Salisbury Rhodes com- 
mitted himself to the view that ‘we should get as quickly as pos- 
sible into the semi-elective system preparatory to final formal 
self-government’. ‘Mr Rhodes said that he was cordially for the 
propositions in connection with having an elective system in the 
Council,’ reported the Herald , and committed himself to the view 
that ‘he did not think that they would permit themselves to be 
amalgamated either with the Transvaal or the Cape Government. 
Therefore they must look at the future and that future would be 
a change to the semi-responsible body; that was to say, certain 
elective members in the Council, and finally complete self-govern- 
ment. They could not expect to have a majority of votes in the 
Council unless they were prepared to pay the expenditure. . . . 
It was frequently said of the present system that they had no voice 
in the government of the country and also frequently considered 
that things were done of which they complain. It was therefore 
better that they should be represented and through their represen- 
tatives point out any abuses, preparing for the time when they 
would have full self-government. This was necessary for the 
progress of the community, because if the Imperial Government 
were to take over the Administration they would not be in so good 
a position. . . . He was glad they were going as early as possible 
to get elective representatives. . . . He was exceedingly pleased 
that the community had had the intelligence and energy to bring 
these matters before him in the form they were. Although he was 
no longer an official he still had a great — the greatest interest in 
the country and the Company were still good enough to consult 
him in regard to these matters.’ 2 

With this speech and his later advocacy of the principle of 
settler representation Rhodes won back majority settler support 

1 Rhodesia Herald, 18 Nov. 1896. 2 Rhodesia Herald, 1 1 Nov. 1896. 


‘We are far from desiring the abrogation of the Charter,’ wrote 
the Rhodesia Herald on the day after Rhodes’ Salisbury speech, 
‘which if suitably modified will provide a golden mean between 
Imperial red tape and unrestrained financial tyranny and selfish- 
ness. Our aim is, after all, sound and wise government. ... If 
the Chartered Company can “tumble” to this wish of the public 
and of the Home Government and prove by acts that it is bent 
on this excellent course we shall be among the first to give them 
full credit and support.’ ‘There is one more point I should like 
Mr Fairb ridge to undeceive himself about,’ wrote a Rhodesian 
settler in December 1896 in an attack upon those who still per- 
sisted with the call for British intervention, ‘namely that Rhodesia 
is tired of Company rule and would rather favour Imperial con- 
trol. . . . The settlers of Rhodesia are satisfied with the promise, 
many times publicly announced by Mr Rhodes, that when the 
country becomes more settled and populous the Government 
shall be handed over to the people and the country ruled respon- 
sibly by those who shall doubtlessly by that time have earned the 
suffrage of the citizens.’ 1 

By no means every member of the Company’s London Board 
was ready to accept the implications of these promises. George 
Cawston, for example, a persistent critic of Rhodes, who had been 
outraged by the Jameson Raid and who thought Rhodes’ part in 
the negotiations with the Ndebele was ‘nothing but duty as whole 
revolt due to taking police out of country,’ was determined that 
the Company’s share-holders should lose nothing because of the 
follies that had been committed. He objected that under Rhodes’ 
proposals for settler representation and Rhodes’ readiness to accept 
some imperial supervision ‘Rhodesia is to be a Crown Colony, 
governed by the High Commissioner at the cost of the Company, 
the Directors of which have but little control over legislation, 
taxation or administration. No doubt it is right to have local 
Administration but the change is very radical.’ But Rhodes was 
right to claim that his word still carried weight; in the end his 
proposals were accepted and Cawston resigned. 2 

In advocating the concession of settler representation to the 
Company Rhodes was able to use powerful arguments over and 
above the urgent need to conciliate white opinion. ‘I consider 

1 The Cape Argus, 16 Dec, 1896. 

2 Cawston correspondence, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 77. 


time has arrived for elective system in Council,’ he cabled the 
London Board in May 1897. ‘I suggest two representatives for 
Mashonaland, two for Matabeleland. British South Africa Com- 
pany should keep majority as being responsible for expenses. This 
is what I call second stage, namely semi-responsible government; 
final stage will be full responsible government at some time hence 
when people can pay the cost of administration. This course will 
be similar to Natal, British South Africa Company taking place 
of Crown. . . . Great point is to propose elective system in Council 
as it meets desire all Rhodesia inhabitants and sooner it takes place 
the better. It also makes buffer between us and English people who 
do not mind pummelling British South Africa Company directors 
but funk to interfere with British South Africa Company directors 
supported by elected representatives of people.’ 1 

Moreover, in making this concession Rhodes was in no sense 
departing from his own vision of Rhodesia’s future. Milner des- 
cribed this vision in June 1897. Rhodes looked ‘to making the 
territory of the British South Africa Company into a separate 
Colony ultimately self-governed (the Company keeping its 
mineral and other valuable rights but giving up administration). 
The Colony (which I may remark in passing though nominally 
self governed, will be virtually an absolute monarchy, with Rhodes 
as monarch), he means to unite with the Cape Colony and Natal, 
and then the three combined will bring peaceful pressure upon 
the Republics to drive them into a S. African federation. . . . They 
are pressing for “representative government” and I think myself 
a representative element in the Council is desirable. Rhodes is 
going for it “hot and strong”, avowedly with the object of strength- 
ening his own position in any difference with the Imperial Govt. 
They may bully the Company, he says frankly, but they won’t 
dare to bully a representative Council.’ 2 

As far as Rhodes was concerned, then, the situation of 1896 and 
1897 merely decided him to move towards settler representation 
more rapidly; the importance of the effects of the rebellion were 
more that they predisposed both the Company and the im- 
perial government to accept the idea. The Company did so 
because it believed that it was the least price which it could pay 

1 Rhodes to London Board, 27 May 1897, LO 5/2/54. 

2 Milner to Sclborne, 2 June and 15 June 1897, Headlam, op. cit., Vol. 1, 
pp. 105-8, 109-11. 


in the circumstances to satisfy the settlers and also offer to the 
British public the appearance of significant reform. The British 
government did so for a variety of reasons. There was first of all 
the point made by Mr Gann in his recent studies of Rhodesian 
history — namely that to the British philanthropic public it was 
the Company that was the villain of the piece and the settler who 
was the small-man victim of immoral capital; from the 1890’s to 
the 1 920s the assumption was that settler democracy must neces- 
sarily provide better government for all than the Company regime. 
Hence settler representation was regarded as a progressive step. 
In the second place, though Milner warned that ‘the representative 
Council will simply be Rhodes even more completely than the 
Company is’, Chamberlain saw the idea of representation as a 
restraint upon Rhodes’ grandiose and alarming designs. ‘He 
certainly does not come out well in connection with the South 
African inquiry,’ he wrote of Rhodes in July 1897. ‘In any case 
the British Government cannot take their policy from him and 
public opinion here will undoubtedly require considerable changes 
in the administration of the Chartered Company. The sooner 
some kind of local government of a popular kind can be established 
in Rhodesia the better.’ Finally, of course, there was the reluctance 
of the British government to become in any way financially 
responsible for Rhodesia which powerfully induced them to accept 
any reasonable looking settlement negotiated between Rhodes 
and Milner. As Milner reminded them in December 1897 if 
further native troubles were to bankrupt the Company it ‘will 
throw an impecunious, undeveloped country bigger than France 
upon your hands’. 1 

Because of all this the question of settler representation pre- 
sented no difficulty in the negotiations between Milner, Milton 
and Rhodes in November 1897 out °f which the constitutional 
settlement finally emerged; argument was confined to the details 
of the new Native Administration and to the exact character of 
imperial supervision of the whole system. So in October 1898 the 
Legislative Council came into being consisting of the Admini- 
strator, the Resident Commissioner, five members nominated by 
the Company and four representatives of the settlers. And though 
formally the least powerful element in the new set-up there was 

1 Chamberlain to Milner, 5 July 1897; Milner to Chamberlain, 1 Dec. 
1897; Headlam, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 90, pp. 139-46. 


little doubt in anybody’s minds that the settler element was the 
most potentially powerful. It had the promises of Rhodes which 
laid down a movement to full self-government; it enjoyed an 
advantage with British public opinion over the Company. Al- 
ready in 1899 ‘Curio’ Brown was able to describe Rhodesia as ‘in 
a state of transition from the rule of the Chartered Company to 
that of a self-governing Colony. Not many years will elapse’, he 
confidently predicted, ‘ere the establishment of a self-governing 
Colony will have been completed’. As Brown saw clearly, the 
settlers were in a very strong position under Company rule. ‘By 
threatening to carry their grievances to the Home Government 
these people have been able to gain their points in all cases except 
those where diplomatic measures were resorted to on the part of 
the Chartered Company’s officials.’ The settlers were ‘better able 
to gain any desired change under the present system than they 
would be with the red tape inseparable from the management of 
a Crown Colony’. 1 

So from 1898 onwards Southern Rhodesia moved steadily to- 
wards settler supremacy; in 1903 they achieved parity of represen- 
tation in the Legislative Council; in 1908 they attained a majority 
there; even at that early date no one questioned that Company 
rule would be followed by settler rule. This mixture of Company 
and settler power, was the form that white supremacy took in 
Rhodesia after 1898. The question now is — how far was this sort 
of white supremacy compatible with a new deal for Rhodesian 
Africans or the working out of the promises made, the realization 
of the potentialities perceived? 

There can be no question that this settler advance, powerfully 
stimulated though it was by the events of the rebellions, ran counter 
to the advantages which it can be argued were derived by Africans 
from their readiness to resist. Milner was in no doubt in 1897 
that the elective element in the Council would prove illiberal in 
its attitude to native policy; Rhodes was correspondingly in no 
doubt that it would support him in his attitude to the labour 
question. ‘Before everything we must have self-government for 
Rhodesia,’ he exclaimed in January 1898 when contemplating 
humanitarian interference in the labour field; if he got self- 
government, commented the Daily News, ‘then he would get his 
labour fast enough’. In 1913 the Belgian scholar, H. Rolin, set 
1 W. H. Brown, The South African Frontier , 1899. 


out with a nice precision the balance of the results of the changes 
which had followed the rebellions. ‘There can be no doubt’, he 
wrote, ‘that numerous acts of oppression were committed to the 
detriment of the natives’, before 1896. ‘The Company was com- 
pelled following the rebellions and under the pressure of public 
opinion to adopt a less harsh approach and to soften the regime 
to which the natives were submitted. Today there are no more 
“atrocities” with which to reproach the Government or the 
settlers. But is the black race over-all treated with justice? . . . 
The rights of the natives are protected in the sense that pillage, 
massacre, acts of injustice or of obvious cruelty are effectively 
prohibited. But is a people well governed merely because it is not 
exposed en masse to crimes of this kind?’ Positively, for all the 
restoration of rights to indunas, Africans were powerless to look 
after their own interests. ‘The Bantu peoples of Rhodesia are at 
the mercy of their European conquerors. The fear of rebellions 
and that of compromising by an oppressive policy the economic 
prosperity of the conquered lands, prevents us from unbounded 
exploitation’. But the system is conceived totally in the interests 
of the whites. ‘It is, without doubt, a good agency for defending 
the economic interests of whites in Rhodesia. . . . What dominates 
all is a pre-occupation with the interests of the whites and the 
absence of a genuine social policy inspired by the interests of the 
blacks.’ 1 

It is possible to show in some detail how this atmosphere in 
which already in 1897 and 1898 the interests of the whites were 
predominant frustrated some of the developments outlined above. 
Let us take them in the order in which they were set out. There 
was a great missionary breakthrough in Southern Rhodesia after 
the rebellions just as Father Boos had hoped, though it was per- 
haps based on more material foundations than missionary realiz- 
ation of Shona religious sense. ‘The opposition of the older people 
to the education of their sons and daughters has been broken, 
especially by reason of the famine which followed the war; belief 
in superstition and witchcraft has received a severe blow which is 
a great assistant to us in convincing the young people of their 
futility. The Divine protection which was so evidently over us is 
acknowledged even by the natives themselves, while, on the other 
hand, the evil consequences the rebellion brought upon the people 
1 H. Rolin, Les lois et V administration de la Rhodesie, Brussels, 1913. 


— poverty, starvation and misery of all kinds — are felt by them too 
severely to admit of denial. . . . The miserable state in which our 
people returned, being without food and quite helpless, threw 
them into our arms for help and protection .... We had to take 
advantage of the favourable moment at any cost and we have made 
the best of our opportunity.’ The centuries long Shona resistance 
to Christianity broke down at last— ‘On the one side were 
missionaries with their oft-repeated threats of God’s punishments; 
on the other the prophet of their God with his war-cry “Murenga”. 
By a wonderful dispensation of Divine Providence our victory 
was complete in the eyes of the people.’ The missions now entered 
upon a period of great power and influence during which they 
were, as sour Native administrators remarked, the real rulers of 
large areas of rural Mashonaland. 1 

The consequences of this break-through were very great but 
they were not quite what was hoped in 1897. The grand op- 
portunity which Grey saw to exploit Shona educational potential 
was not fully exploited; the Company did not agree to spend 
money on African education though it did go so far as to donate 
the Old Umtali site to the American Methodist Episcopal Church. 
Above all there was the ambiguity for the missionaries themselves 
of operating within the context of white supremacy from which 
they could not and often did not wish to dissociate themselves. 
It is perhaps not too far-fetched to see this dilemma at work even 
in Father Richartz’s opposition to the increase in hut tax in 1903. 
He attacked the prejudice shown against Africans by the members 
of the new Legislative Council whose conduct would ‘certainly 
convince thinking men that the entire management of native 
affairs cannot be left to such a population’, but at the same time 
he voiced his opposition mainly in terms of the injury the increase 
would do to the white farming industry. ‘Farming will not pay 
in this country if average wages are higher than 15^ a month’; 
the increase was ‘a very heavy indirect taxation on the white 
population . . . and especially on the farming population’. In this 
sort of context, for all the educational work that the missions had 
done by 1913, Rolin’s expressed doubts in that year still had point. 
‘We doubt whether the native, apparently “Christianized” by 

1 Richartz, ‘Chishawasha after the Rebellion’, Zambesi Mission Record, Vol. 
1, No. 2, Nov. 1898; Boos, ‘The Springtime of the Mashona Mission’, Z am ^csi 
Mission Record, Vol. 1, No. 4, May 1899. 


the missionaries and superficially civilized is happier or better 
than his fathers. . . . We arc not sure that the poor man who works 
on the fields of a white owner for a few shillings a month, or 
labours in a mine to extract gold, represents a superior human 
type to the “savage”, agriculturalist and warrior, of the pre- 
Conquest period.’ 1 

What, then, of the powers given to the Ndebele indunas and later 
to the officially recognized Shona chiefs? Rhodes successfully 
created the feeling that the indunas were important but Rhodes 
died in 1902; after his death the illusion that white and black 
interests could be combined could not be sustained by the smaller 
figures who survived. And in reality the powers which the official 
chiefs possessed were very small. Gann tells us the Rhodesian 
philosophy saw tribal institutions as retrograde and Africans not 
as members of pre-European systems but as ‘the privates of the 
industrial army in every department of work’; accordingly ‘the 
law gave few rights to chiefs. The Administrator in Council was 
stated to wield all political power and authority over the natives. 
The Administrator in Council could remove chiefs subject to the 
consent of the High Commissioner, or even divide or amalgamate 
different tribes. The chiefs themselves had no recognized powers 
of jurisdiction. They were simply regarded as subordinate officials 
responsible for the good conduct of their tribes, for notifying 
crimes, deaths and epidemics to the Native Commissioners, for 
giving help with the collection of taxes and for the apprehension 
of criminals.’ This was the extent to which the restoration of the 
powers of the Ndebele indunas turned out to be compatible with 
white supremacy. 2 

It was, in fact, never the intention of Rhodes and Grey to give 
the Ndebele indunas greater powers than these. But they did in- 
tend, as we have seen, to provide enough land in Matabeleland 
for Ndebele needs; to set up a Reserve system in Mashonaland; 
and to bring an end to the era of unrestricted white land exploit- 
ation. The Order in Council of 1898 placed a statutory obligation 
on the Company to provide enough land for Africans in both 

1 Richartz to Resident Commissioner, 6 July 1903, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 
717, pp. 420-23; Rolin, op. cit. 

2 L. H. Gann, A History of Southern Rhodesia, 1965, pp. 149-50. Chapter Five 
of Mr Gann’s admirable book treats the same range of topics as this chapter in 
a more detailed way and with some difference of emphasis. 


provinces. In Mashonaland, indeed, where white pressure on 
land had not been so great and where large areas remained un- 
allocated a Reserve system was set up which met Shona require- 
ments in the short run in a more or less satisfactory way. But in 
Matabeleland the situation was very different. Here Grey’s good 
intentions fell down in the face of Company reluctance to spend 
money to purchase land already granted to whites and in the face 
of white resistance to the idea of African settlement in white ranching 
or farming districts. Rhodes had fulfilled his promise that the senior 
indunas could return to the land which they had occupied in Loben- 
gula’s day only by coming to a temporary arrangement with the 
new white owners. A series of agreements were worked out by which 
the Ndebele were allowed to settle on privately owned white 
land rent-free for the first year but paying thereafter ‘such portion 
of native crops as may be suitable’, the owners to have the first 
use of labour drawn from the settlements on the land through 
official labour recruiting channels. The Ndebele settlers were 
guaranteed undisturbed possession for two years after October 
1896. Whether or not the surrendering rebels understood these 
terms it was on this basis that most of them were resettled and for 
the first two years no doubt they were satisfied with their return 
to their old territories. But as Grey wrote to Rhodes in January 
1897 some additional provision was urgently needed for those who 
did not wish to continue paying rent in kind or in labour to white 
owners or who wanted greater security than a two-year guarantee 
of possession. This additional provision was not made in central 
Matabeleland. In June 1897 Grey was informed by the Assistant 
Deputy Administrator of Matabeleland, Townshend, that ‘we 
could only obtain lands outright in these districts at very heavy 
cost as owners would immediately put up price if we offered to 
buy or demanded to expropriate’. All that the Company were 
prepared to do in the key central areas was to lease blocks of land 
for a five-year period on which the Company would allow the 
Ndebele to settle under the terms of the October 1896 agreement. 
In any case the Chief Native Commissioner was prepared to 
assert that ‘lands reserved are far in excess of any possible require- 
ments of native population for next 20 years’ and that the ‘greater 
proportion of native population will come to some arrangement 
with private owners to remain on land they at present occupy 
rather than move to other locations’. Thus in central Matabeleland 

IX Ndebele leaders gather in Bulawayo after the conclusion of peace i8()6. 


i/foSl 7cZ.J+ Monday ^c£//z */s?y ec 0? 


,<v \: y: / v 

\ . / f'j/ ' 

k \r§;\ \ ^ . I \ ^ 


\JL ■’• 

■<i±c.- d 

,.^€. ] NM CdN.Jh 

^ 1(00^ 


mSa x 

JM. -X 

i fegj 

r / |f\sf|oH.*|L^p. 

X A cartoon from the Salisbury Nugget of July 12th, 1897, contrasting 
the fate of the Ndebele and the Shona rebels. 


virtually nothing was done to improve the land situation. Once 
their two-year guarantee of occupation was up the Ndebele found 
themselves at the mercy of their landlords. ‘White men of varied 
origin and race become in a day their landlords,’ wrote the 
Superintendent of Natives, Bulawayo, in that account of Ndebele 
land grievances which we quoted in Chapter Three; ‘their over- 
lords, with power to dispossess and drive forth. To an aristocratic 
race the delegation of such power has appeared unseemly in many 
cases. The word “amaplazi” . . . meaning “farms” stands, it 
may be said, for almost all that is most distasteful in our rule. 
Almost it stands for helotage and servitude to a chance-made 
master.’ 1 

If Company parsimony prevented the realization of Grey’s 
plan of land reform in central Matabeleland, other attempts to 
reverse some of the mistakes of the past ran into the resolute 
opposition of the vested interests which those mistakes had created. 
Late in 1897 Rhodes told Milton that the ‘time has now come 
when we must enforce the [occupation] clause. The large com- 
panies have had time enough and now the railways are in they 
must occupy or abandon’. But in fact most of the great investment 
land holdings continued to lie unexploited for decades, offering 
to embittered Africans the spectacle of flagrantly under-used 
white land; the companies concerned contained too many in- 
fluential people whose friendship to the Company was valuable. 
Milton also attempted to check upon the grants made in Jameson’s 
time which had been founded on ‘bogus’ surveys; he suggested 
legislation offering final title to people who were prepared to 
have a resurvey at their own expense. At once there was loud 
opposition: ‘Certain people at Bulawayo . . . claim that we shall 
recognise surveys which may be faulty or bogus and issue title 
thereon. They resent the determination of the Government not 
to tolerate any longer the practice which has led to the present 
chaos.’ This resentment of Company land policy under the new 
regime was, indeed, the occasion for the first clash between Com- 
pany and settlers within the framework of the new Legislative 
Council. ‘Instructed by representatives of all public bodies in 
Rhodesia,’ cabled the Representatives Association to Rhodes in 
June 1899, ‘we transmit resolutions unanimously passed at mass 

1 Townshend to Grey, June 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1, 
Vol. 1; S/N, Bulawayo, to G.N.C., 1 June 1920, N 3/16/9. 



meeting last night. The inhabitants of Rhodesia count upon you 
to see that right and justice is done. First, resolved that this meet- 
ing whilst making recognition of the services to the Empire rendered 
by the British South Africa Company in opening up Southern 
Rhodesia to colonization is of the opinion that the legislative 
powers enjoyed by that Company are inequitable because the 
past session of the Legislative Council has shown that the business 
of the Council has been to forward the commercial interests of 
the Company as distinct from the interests of the community, by 
the invariable vote of the seven nominee members against the 
vote of the four elected members. . . . Means should be taken to 
obtain some considerable modification of the existing constitution 
until the community is prepared to assume Responsible Govern- 
ment, if possible by means of a conference between His Excellency 
the High Commissioner and representatives of the inhabitants and 
of the British South Africa Company. Second that an appeal 
should be made to the High Commissioner to withhold his ap- 
proval of the Southern Rhodesian Land Ordinance 1899.’ Milton 
was not willing to ignore opposition of this kind; in October 1899 
he was suggesting to Rhodes that it might be wise for the Company 
to nominate a settler to the next Council so that the disparity in 
voting strength was less obvious. 1 

When it was so difficult for the Company to secure its own 
interests over land in the face of settler opposition it was not 
to be supposed that it would make a very great effort in African 
interests. Thus the one way in which Ndebele resentment might 
have found relief — by the communal purchase of land — was 
tacitly blocked. In the 1898 Constitution the free right of every- 
one, black or white, to purchase land anywhere in Southern 
Rhodesia was stated; but by the time that Nyamanda and the 
other senior indunas were coming round to the idea of land pur- 
chase as the only way of securing possession of land a conven- 
tion had already grown up that the Company would not sell to 

This convention, of course, arose from the increasing white 
settler demand for segregation. We have seen that one enduring 
legacy of the rebellions was fear and that this fear was a sort of 

1 Rhodes to Milton, Nov. 1897, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 227, Letter Book 
13; Milton to Rhodes, 8 Aug. 1898; Representatives Association to Rhodes, 
30 June 1899; Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, C. 1, Vol. 1. 


guarantee that the African population of Southern Rhodesia 
would no longer be subjected to ‘atrocities’. But the accompani- 
ment of fear was hate. During the 1903 debates in the Legislative 
Council the elected members showed, in Father Richartz’ words, 
‘a bitter hatred against natives and their protectors. I am so 
disgusted at the outburst of rude hatred against the natives’, con- 
tinued Richartz, beating already against the bars of that prison 
of white supremacy in which his missionary lot was cast, ‘that I 
am considering whether it is becoming for me to have anything 
further to do with men who are not ashamed to speak as some 
members did, or applauded such utterings. . . . We have the 
sacred duty to teach them obedience towards God and Govern- 
ment but it is a crime to throw them away and deal with them 
as if they were less than slaves.’ 1 

An editorial in Rhodesia might seek to argue that the settlers 
were really concerned only with the improvement of the African 
and to deny that statements of the sort objected to by Father 
Richartz ‘failed to denote any sense of duty to our fellow men. A 
Kaffir is a man and a brother, in theory, but when dealing with 
him you cannot treat him as your peer, but must use the best and 
most effective methods to make him so. . . . There is as little in- 
consistency in loving through thrashing your nigger as there is in 
birching a child of your own flesh and blood. Only practical 
colonial experience can adequately prove the correctness of this.’ 2 
But it was not difficult to see beneath the surface of this sort of 
love the hatred and the fear. It was this mixture of emotions 
which produced the phenomenon later on of the Black Peril, the 
threat to white womanhood detected on the slightest of evidence 
by so many Rhodesians; which produced the notorious decisions 
of white Rhodesian juries; which produced the colour bar in all its 
manifestations. Writing in 1932 Marshall Hole admitted that 
racial prejudice and discrimination were ‘more deeply seated’ in 
Southern Rhodesia ‘than in the older colonies of South Africa’; 
it was the result, he said, of the experience of the rebellions 
and the folk memory of them which every Rhodesian inherited. 
Even in the passive and peaceful years of the 1920s and the 
1 930s when every Rhodesian knew the Africans to be totally 

1 Richartz to Resident Commissioner, 6 July 1903, C.O., C.P., S.A., No. 717, 
pp. 420-3. 

2 Rhodesia , 12 March 1898. 



contented — or believed that he knew them to be so — the memory 
of the rebellions and of what was done on both sides during them 
persisted . 1 

In this complex variety of ways, then, the effects of the rebellions 
ran through Rhodesian life, helping to shape the relations of white 
and black. And if they were remembered at the back of the minds 
of the whites we may suppose that they were not forgotten by the 
blacks. We need now to turn to their place in the African history 
of Southern Rhodesia and specifically in the history of African 

1 H. M. Hole, The Passing of the Black Kings, London, 1932, p. 306. Hole 
thought that; ‘the danger of a widespread revolt of South African natives 
against white men cannot be entirely excluded. One can never predict from 
experience what African natives will do in any given circumstances. Their 
ways and motives are not ours and they are more liable to mass hysteria which 
may be induced — as in the case of the Mashona rebellion — by panic or 
superstition or some imaginary grievance.’ 


The Risings in African Political History 

Whites in southern Africa saw the Shona and Ndebele risings 
exclusively in terms of imperial history, of the onward march of 
the white man and the inevitable but doomed resistance to it. 
But the risings had, of course, another context — that of the African 
history of Southern Rhodesia. The chronological limits of this 
other context were not bounded by the arrival of the whites in 
the 1890s nor even by the bursting out of South African whites 
into the interior earlier in the century. Even if they are seen 
exclusively as anti-colonial reactions the risings had much earlier 
precedents. The Shona people, after all, had experienced inter- 
mittent colonial pressures from the sixteenth century onwards, 
and if their rising was comparable, as we shall see, to other 
resistances in southern, central and east Africa in the later nine- 
teenth century it was also comparable to their own rising in arms 
against the Portuguese in 1629-30. Mr Gann describes this earlier 
rising in terms strongly reminiscent of many of the things we have 
said about the 1896-7 upheaval. ‘Poor administration, the ap- 
pointment of unsuitable officials, and the absence of any effective 
central control all contributed to a major African rising. Portu- 
guese traders and their followers were slaughtered, and even 
Quelimane itself came under siege. Nyambo Kapararidze, the 
leader of the anti-Portuguese faction, effectively wiped out Lusi- 
tanian influence . . . some 300 to 400 Portuguese and some 6000 
Africans were killed, the Christians suffering the greatest military 
disaster that had yet befallen them in South-East Africa.’ This 
was a disaster for the whites closely comparable, even in terms 
of the numbers killed, with the Rhodesian disaster some 250 years 
later. It was an example of momentarily successful African reac- 
tion which also has its similarities with the organization we have 
described. It took the form of a war of religion against the Chris- 
tian missionaries, their converts and the Mutapa who had become 
their puppet; in this sense, too, it was revolutionary, directed 
against the administrative machinery of the Mutapa empire as 


well as against the Portuguese. It was, of course, easier to organize 
since it took place in a setting in which Shona political institutions 
still retained great vitality and since it did not involve co- 
operation with a society as different as the Ndebele; nevertheless 
it would be fascinating to know more of its details and to see what 
light they might throw on the risings of 1 896-7. 1 

And this rising, though the most spectacular, was only one of 
the incidents in the long struggle of the Shona and the Portuguese. 
It was suppressed, just as the risings of 1896-7 were suppressed, 
and Portuguese influence restored; there was even a breakthrough 
of missionary influence after it. But the Portuguese recovery was 
temporary and by the end of the century the Rozwi power, which 
we have seen in its decline and in its attempted re-establishment, 
had driven them out of what is now Southern Rhodesia. No doubt 
it is in this context of the long sequence of Shona resistance to 
European pressure that the 1896-7 risings will be seen in nation- 
alist historiography rather than as an episode in the triumphal 
rise of the British imperial system in Africa. 

But legitimate and illuminating though it is to set the risings 
in this different perspective, it needs also to be said that they 
should not be seen as exclusively anti-colonial phenomena. They 
must also be seen in the context of the African history of Southern 
Rhodesia as such; of the relations between the Shona and the 
Ndebele, both before and after the risings; of the tensions operative 
within Ndebele and Shona societies themselves; of the long history 
of ‘church-state’ friction between the Mwari cult and the successive 
political authorities of Matabeleland. And as the African history 
of Southern Rhodesia develops in the second half of the twentieth 
century it may well be that one or other of these themes will 
emerge as more lastingly important than the theme of black- 
white relations itself. It may be that the risings will then be looked 
back upon as an important stage in the shifting balance of power 
between Ndebele and Shona; or as the source of significant changes 
within African society; rather than as a demonstration of African 
hostility to colonialism. Finally, even if we concentrate on the 
risings as examples of resistance we should not forget that resistance 
was offered in Southern Rhodesia to African regimes and to 
African invaders as well as to European ones. If the example of 
Kapararidze is illuminating to the student of the 1896-7 risings 

1 Gann, op. cit, pp. 23-5. 



so also is that of the great mediums of the Chaminuka spirit who 
rallied the western and central Shona at the time of the Ndebele 
raids upon them. In addition then, to the colonial and the nation- 
alist perspective and to the unpredictable perspectives of the 
future there is the perspective of the Chaminuka medium in 1903: 
‘I am Chaminuka. I know everything. I am all powerful. I 
caused the downfall of the BaRozwi and the Matabele and I will 
cause the white man to leave the country.’ 1 

It would be a mistake, therefore, to isolate the risings from the 
African past of Southern Rhodesia and to treat them as if they 
were a response to a totally new situation. There is no question 
but that the colonial pressures of the 1890s were much more in- 
tensive and also extensive than anything which the African peoples 
of Southern Rhodesia had experienced before and so compelled 
them to produce a retort which involved more people and at a 
more committed level. But there is much reason to suppose that 
the answers found to the problems of how to organize more people 
and how to commit them deeply had parallels in the past of 
Southern Rhodesian Africans. There is also reason to suppose that 
they have a continuing relevance to the problems of resistance in 
the contemporary African context. In short, we must try to see 
the nineteenth-century resistances as part of a stream of develop- 
ment beginning before and running through the colonial period: 
it is not enough, as some Africanists are inclined to do, to shift 
the emphasis away from the Scramble and the ‘pacification’ and 
on to the African resistance to them, since this still puts an 
incorrect emphasis upon the early colonial period as a radical 
breach with the past. But important though these considerations 
are, here we are chiefly concerned with the relevance of the risings 
of 1896-7 to the colonial and nationalist history of Southern Rho- 
desia, and in the history of African politics from the 1890s to the 
present day. 2 

Before we can understand how the risings are related to later 
African politics in Southern Rhodesia, we must grasp their signifi- 
cance in their own time by comparing them with other resistances 

1 Morris to Taberer, 12 Dec. 1930, A 11/2/12/11. 

2 I have discussed these themes further in, T. O. Ranger, ‘African Reaction 
and Resistance to the Imposition of Colonial Rule in East and Central Africa’, 
to be published by Stanford University Press in a symposium on Imperialism 
edited by L. H. Gann and P. Duignan. 


to the imposition of European colonial rule in East and Central 
Africa. From such a comparison two important points emerge, 
one as the result of the dissimilarity of the 1896-7 risings to 
most of the other resistances of the late nineteenth and early 
twentieth century, the other as the result of their similarity to a 
few of these resistances. The Southern Rhodesian risings are 
distinguished from the great majority of attempts at resistance 
because of their effectiveness. However much it may have appeared 
that they were doomed to be defeated, and whatever their internal 
weaknesses, they cannot be evaluated adequately without a 
realization that the challenge they presented to the whites was 
the most formidable, and the scale of their organization the great- 
est, of any of the east, central and southern African resistances. 
From this point of view what is important about them is not their 
eventual failure but the degree of success that they were able 
to achieve. This was no doubt the result of the past traditions of 
resistance and the past traditions of charismatic leadership, 
combined with the past history of political centralization which 
both the Rozwi and the Ndebele had experienced. At any rate 
there were few risings which attained a similar degree of effective- 
ness and fewer still that managed to do so on a supra-tribal or 
supra-linguistic scale. 

But the second point that needs to be made is that the few other 
risings which did manage to attack the problem of scale in a com- 
parably effective way present striking parallels with the Shona 
and Ndebele risings and that these parallels at once help us to 
understand the significance of some of the phenomena character- 
istic of those risings and also to realize that they were not in any 
sense peculiar. Let us take, for instance, the greatest of the East 
African resistances, the Maji-Maji rising of 1905 in German East 
Africa. Superficially the background of the two upheavals appears 
very different. The Maji-Maji rising broke out in an area which had 
not known any significant degree of political centralization in the 
past and it broke out in an area which was not occupied by white 
settlers; those districts which had traditionally enjoyed the degree 
of coherence given by the institution of the ntemi chiefship stayed 
out of the rising and so did those areas which were being opened 
up for white settlement. In Southern Rhodesia, of course, the 
reverse was true; the risings were more or less co-extensive with 
white settlement and within the area of white settlement it was those 



peoples with a tradition of centralized political institutions who 
took the leading part. But this difference, although suggestive in 
many ways, is less important than the essential similarity. In both 
cases the area which rebelled was that under the heaviest economic 
pressure and facing the greatest challenge to ‘traditional’ economic 
methods. We have already see how this pressure and challenge 
operated in settler Southern Rhodesia: in German East Africa 
it was not applied so much by the relatively weaker settler popu- 
lation but by government-enforced schemes in what became the 
rebel areas for the collective growing of cash crops. It is probably 
true to say, indeed, that it was in these two areas that the pressures 
of colonialism were most acutely felt in this early period and this 
is no doubt one reason why they were the two areas of strikingly 
vigorous resistance. 

And in both cases the rebels faced the problem of bringing 
together many different groups, some of them bitter enemies in 
the past. Maji-Maji managed to combine an intrusive Nguni raid- 
ing group with its indigenous enemies just as the risings of 1896-7 
managed to combine the Ndebele and the Shona. It did so with- 
out the help — except in the case of the Ngoni themselves — of 
pre-existing political centralization and for that reason it was un- 
doubtedly less articulated than the Rhodesian rebellions, but that 
it was able to do so at all is a testimony to the importance of the 
other factors that were common to both movements. Dr Iliffe, 
who is working towards a major study of Maji-Maji, has remarked 
that it was a ‘post-pacification revolt, quite different from the 
early resistance. That had been local and professional, soldiers 
against soldiers, whereas Maji-Maji affected almost everyone in 
Tanganyika. It was a great crisis of commitment.’ This is, of 
course, the same distinction that we have drawn between the 
Ndebele war of 1893 — ‘soldiers against soldiers’ — and the risings 
of 1896-7. A great deal more work needs to be done on the 
mechanics of this commitment in the case of Maji-Maji before 
we can make confident generalizations. But one explanation which 
emerges from the German sources is of particular interest in the 
context of a comparison between Maji-Maji and the Rhodesian 
risings. This concerns the Kolelo cult, an observance centring 
around belief in a great snake sent by God to restore order and 
innocence to a corrupted earth. Like the Mwari cult the Kolelo 
system possessed a ‘priesthood’; operated from a number of oracular 


cave centres; and attracted pilgrims from all over southern 
and eastern Tanganyika with gifts and with problems. Like the 
Mwari cult the ordinary operation of the Kolelo system provided 
a wider network of contact and communication than any secular 
political system or combination of systems in the rebel area. But 
there is also some evidence to suggest that in addition to the 
use made of this ‘normal’ cult organization there were develop- 
ments in the cult structure and theology immediately before and 
during 1905 which paralleled the innovations of Mkwati and 
Kagubi. Contemporary German observers believed that there 
had been a change within the cult from a concern with fertility 
and sickness to a millenarian pre-occupation. Cult leaders prom- 
ised the overthrow of the colonial system through direct divine 
intervention. They offered protection against witchcraft and 
against bullets; rebels entered the community of the faithful 
and invulnerable by drinking the holy water distributed by the 
priests of Kolelo and demonstrated their membership of that 
community by observing its new rules of conduct and using its 
passwords and greetings. There was a promise of resurrection 
and there was an appeal to all Africans. ‘Be not afraid,’ ran the 
message; ‘Kolelo spares his black children.’ In this spirit an appeal 
could be made across the frontiers of old animosities, just as the 
spirit medium of the Budja appealed to them against their old 
rivalry with the Zezuru. ‘We received an order from God’, wrote 
chief Songea of the Tanganyika Ngoni to his old enemy chief 
Mataka of the Yao, ‘to the effect that all white men had to quit 
the country. . . . This war ordered by God must come first. Send 
100 men with guns. Help me in taking the boma. . . . Once we 
have taken the boma of Songea we shall move against the stations 
on Lake Nyasa, you and I together. Let us now forget our former 
quarrels. This bottle containing the medicine was sent by Kinjala 
himself [one of the Kolelo prophets] the leader of the war.’ 1 

The parallels here with what happened in Matabeleland and 
Mashonaland are obvious. And these parallels, with the same 
mixture of the traditional and the innovatory appeal of a religious 
leadership, can be found in other resistances which were effective 
because they involved an extension of scale. Sometimes, indeed, 

1 J. Iliffe, ‘The German administration in Tanganyika, 1906-1 1’, Cambridge 
University Ph.d. thesis, 1965; Fr Elzear Ebner, History of the Wangoni , mimco, 
i 959 > P- l V‘ 


they can be found within the context of a tribal or linguistic group. 
This is the case with the Nandi of western Kenya whose resistance 
against the whites began as a traditional, soldiers against soldiers, 
affair and developed over a decade into the struggle of the whole 
of Nandi society, united in action for the first time. The figure 
around whom they united was the orkoiyot or prophet, a figure 
originally derived from another people, whose authority grew as 
the colonial pressure grew. But more striking are the supra-tribal 
and supra-linguistic examples. For our purposes one more must 
suffice. It concerns the Nyabingi movement of the Bantu-speaking 
peoples of northern Ruanda, the Belgian Congo, British Ruanda 
and Kigezi. These peoples had historically been organized on a 
very small scale and before the colonial period had experienced 
the pressure of the non-Bantu state systems of Ruanda and the 
inter-lacustrine area. During the nineteenth century the Nyabingi 
cult arose in northern Ruanda to become the focus of opposition 
there to the Ruandan monarchy. It was derived theologically 
from the religious belief and practice of the Bantu peoples of 
northern Tanganyika and celebrated the power of the spirit of 
a Bantu queen figure, overthrown in legend by usurpers from the 
north; it presented a powerful pan-Bantu appeal. Mediumistic, 
giving full scope to innovation and charismatic leadership, it 
first served as the basis for resistance to the pre-colonial monarchy 
of Ruanda and of ‘heretical’ opposition to the state cult, many of 
whose practices it had borrowed and modified; then it provided 
some coherence to the politically fragmented Kiga people; then 
became the vehicle for an organized attempt to overthrow the 
German regime in Ruanda and its royal Ruandan ally; then 
encouraged the Kiga to attack the Ganda agents of British rule; 
then mobilized forces during the first world war which impartially 
attacked German, British and Belgian troops alike. It cut across 
the frontiers of both pre-colonial and colonial state systems; 
promised immunity to its adherents if they observed its rules of 
conduct; and survived into the post-war period to harass the 
colonial regimes. ‘It has everywhere proved itself revolutionary 
in method and anarchic in effect,’ wrote the Assistant District 
Commissioner, Kigezi, in 1919. ‘Fanaticism and terror are every- 
where inculcated. . . . The whole appeal is to fear and to the lower 
instincts; to the masses, Bahutu, against the classes, Batussi. . . . 
The whole aspect of the Nabingi is of a fanatic anarchic sect as 


opposed to the liberal and religious principles of the indigeneous 
Kubandwa cult.’ 1 

We can now begin to see the Mwari cult leaders and the 
Kagubi medium in better perspective. They were not the fraudu- 
lent agitators of Company legend, whose leadership of the risings 
was held to make those movements by definition so irrational 
that any attempt to understand them was bound to fail. They 
were very successful exponents of a type of leadership which 
appears to have been associated with most of the striking attempts 
to solve, on however impermanent a basis, the greatest political 
problem of pre-colonial Africa; the problem of scale. They were 
not uncomfortable oddities whose involvement in the rising is a 
source of embarrassment to rational modern nationalists. We shall 
not understand the risings, indeed, unless we approach them in 
a spirit which finds the Kagubi medium sending his daughters to 
Chishawasha school no more strange — or perhaps as strange — as 
Father Richartz ‘converting’ the Kagubi medium on the scaffold. 
Although all religious enthusiasm has an element of the supra- 
rational, the services of the religious leadership to the 1896-7 
risings, as to the Maji-Maji and the Nyabingi movements, were 
eminently utilitarian. The resistances were a defiance of a power 
which enjoyed great technological superiority and began with a 
superiority of morale based upon it and upon confidence in its 
ability to shape the world. The religious leaders were able to 
oppose to this a morale which for the moment was as confident, if 
not more so, based upon their supposed ability to shape the world; 
and they were able to oppose to modern weapons the one great 
advantage that the Africans possessed, that of numbers. In no other 
way could the African peoples of the late nineteenth and early 
twentieth centuries, especially perhaps those peoples involved in 
the movements we have discussed have offered a challenge to the 
Europeans. Moreover the so-called ‘superstitious’ injunctions 
of the religious leaders not only served the purpose of creating a 
sense of the new society but also ensured the minimum of dis- 
cipline essential in movements such as these. The great injunction 
— not to loot European goods but to deliver them to the servants 

1 Report by Capt. J. E. T. Phillips, A.D.C., Kigezi, 31 July 1919, National 
Archives, Dar es Salaam, Secretariat file 0910; M. J. Bessell, ‘Nyabingi’, 
Uganda Journal , Vol. VI, No. 2, Oct. 1938; P. W. T. Baxter, ‘The Kiga’, in 
East African Chiefs , ed. A. Richards, London, 1959. 



of God — prevented the risings from breaking up into a series of 
fragmented raids for property, and gave the religious leaders, 
through their control of the modern weapons seized from the 
whites, a stronger hold still upon the military side of the rebellions. 

This fact — that the risings of 1896-7 represent a particularly 
successful example of mass commitment under the sort of leader- 
ship most appropriate to the circumstances — is one of the im- 
portant ways in which those risings were looking to the future. 
Before we leave them, we must make one further point. This 
concerns the attitude of the rebels to ‘modernization’. Through all 
these risings there ran a strain of repudiation of the white man’s 
way of life and of his goods; of prophetic warning against their 
seduction. Thus in Mashonaland we have the famous story of the 
Chaminuka medium’s prophecy that the Shona would be able to 
preserve their independence only if they could resist the tempt- 
tation to acquire the goods of the whites; we have the Nehanda 
medium in June 1896 urging her followers to fight only with 
spears and sticks and to repudiate European weapons; we have 
in the decades after the rising a series of commands from the 
Mwari shrines to use only African utensils and to reject enamel- 
ware, or from the north-eastern spirit mediums to kill all pigs as 
‘non-traditional’ animals. During Maji-Maji, we are told, the 
rebel name for the Europeans was Walutupilukere, meaning 
the men made of red clay, and orders were given that all red goats, 
pigeons, hens, etc., be killed. It is tempting to contrast the inevit- 
able attitude of the traditional religious leader with the potentially 
innovating African secular authority; the one having nothing to 
gain from the arrival of mission education and technology, the 
other often seeing in them a way of strengthening the government 
and economy of the state. It is tempting to see the risings which 
had such religious leadership as essentially reactionary, turning 
their backs on the new. 

Yet it is not as straightforward as that. Even in these early 
resistances there is apparent that ambiguity towards European 
ideas and technology which is so obvious in later millenarian and 
mass nationalist movements. There is repudiation but also desire; 
a rejection of white mastery but a longing for African control of 
modern sources of wealth and power in an African environment. 
We have already argued of Mkwati and Kagubi that they were not 
reactionary in the simple sense of looking to the restoration of the 


status quo of 1890; their programme was in some ways revolutionary 
in its vision of a new society. This was true also of Maji-Maji and 
the Nyabingi movement. But in addition to this the new society 
involved, at least at times and in some of its aspects, control of 
European goods. If the Nehanda medium instructed the abandon- 
ment of guns, Mkwati and the Kagubi medium made a great 
point of collecting the modern rifles taken from whites killed in 
March and June 1896 and distributing them as rewards for parti- 
cularly loyal or effective service. In the same way we may not 
absurdly see in their creation of their own ‘police’ force — ‘they 
were like the white man’s police officers’, said an African witness 
at the trial of the Kagubi medium, describing his personal follow- 
ing; ‘their only work was killing people’ — an imitation of white 
power. This comes out quite strongly in the evidence presented 
in ‘Kagubi’s’ trial; how he himself instituted a sort of trial of 
Africans who had served whites; how he found them guilty as 
‘rebels’ and ordered their execution. And the Kagubi medium 
himself, after all, had allowed his daughters to attend the mission 
school. Mr Gann tells us that his personal ‘police’ force, the ‘hands 
of the Mondoro’, ‘included men who had been in touch with 
Europeans and picked up some of their skills’. As for Mkwati, in 
his millenarian promises there was a strange mixture of return 
to the past and control of the new. Lobengula was to return from 
the dead — and to reign from Government House, Bulawayo. 
When Mkwati was trying to rally the north-eastern rebels in 
August 1896 it was reported that he promised them that they only 
had ‘to wait until all the whites are dead or fled and then they 
will enjoy the good things of the town and live in palaces of 
corrugated iron’. ‘Directly the white men are killed’, a police 
inspector was told during the Inyanga scare of 1903-4, ‘we will 
occupy your houses; all these nice things will be ours.’ These 
hints justify us in finding in the risings of 1896-7, though in 
different proportions, the same elements which are so clearly 
detectable in the twentieth century millenarian movements with 
which they are in other ways so comparable. 1 

These, then, are the features of the risings of 1896-7 which are 
most important in considering their relationship to the future. 

1 Gann, op. cit., p. 136; Regina versus Kagubi, HC/M, No. 253; The Daily 
Chronicle , 13 July and 10 Sept. 1896; intelligence report, Inyanga, 26 Mar. 
1904, A 1 1/2/12/12. 



Let us now turn to the events which followed the risings. Here 
we need to discuss three aspects: first the direct continuance of the 
tradition of armed resistance after 1897; then the immediate 
legacy of the risings in Matabelcland and in western and central 
Mashonaland and the way in which politics there developed as 
a result; finally the remoter legacy of the risings in the period of 
modern mass nationalism. 

We have been hinting already at ways in which the 1896-7 ris- 
ings looked forward to the sort of opposition that developed once 
armed ‘primary resistance’ was over. But these risings were not the 
last in the long sequence of Shona ‘primary resistances’, if that 
term can sensibly be applied to a series of contests stretching over 
several centuries. The Kapararidze tradition was still vital; the 
combinations of memories of older centralizing institutions with 
the continuing authority of the spirit mediums was still able to pro- 
duce challenges to European rule. Risings so organized did not 
break out again in the area of the 1896-7 revolt, even though 
whites certainly thought they were planned in Mashonaland, but 
they did break out on a large scale in areas which had not been 
involved in that rebellion. The significance of these later upheavals, 
the first reaching its peak between 1900 and 1902 and the second 
erupting as late as 1917, has been obscured for historians of Rhod- 
esia because they took place mainly in Portuguese territory, with 
some significant overspills into north-eastern Rhodesia. But they 
form an integral part of Shona history, being to the nuclear area 
of the Mutapa dynasty what the 1896-7 risings were to Ndebeleand 
Rozwi political tradition. For us their interest is partly that in them 
we have another opportunity for comparison and one nearer home 
than the Maji-Maji or Nyabingi movements and partly that these 
risings appeared to demonstrate the continued practicality of this 
sort of organization right up into the years of the First World War. 
This was one of the reasons why Shona opposition to colonial rule 
in central and western Mashonaland took so long to express itself 
in new terms; the exploits of Mapondera in the north-east in 1900 
and 1901 or the saga of the Makombe paramounts’ defiance of the 
Portuguese still exercised a powerful hold on the Shona imagina- 
tion. 1 

1 For fuller accounts of these two upheavals, indicating the sources on which 
the following paragraphs are based, see. T. O. Ranger, ‘The last days of the 
Empire of Mwene Mutapa’, Conference of the History of the Central African Peoples, 


Both resistances covered a large area — a great crescent of ter- 
ritory between the Zambesi and the Rhodesian frontier, running 
east from Zumbo along the river almost up to Tete itself and then 
south to the Barwe, theparamountcyof the Makombe. In the earlier 
upheaval the revolt was extended into Rhodesia. The Rhodesian 
Korekore and Tavara were involved and it was rumoured that the 
Budja of Mtoko and the people of the Inyanga district opposite 
Barwe also intended to come out in arms. In 1917 there was no 
rising inside Rhodesia but numbers of Rhodesian Africans crossed 
the border to fight against the Portuguese and some of the rebel 
leaders planned an invasion of the Mount Darwin district. If they 
covered a wide area these risings also offered a considerable chal- 
lenge. Both between 1900 and 1902 and in 1917 Portuguese admin- 
istration collapsed throughout the whole crescent of the rebellions; 
in Rhodesia at the turn of the century there was fighting in both 
the Korekore and the Tavara areas which reached its climax in 
Mapondera’s raid on the Mount Darwin township in February 
1901. The suppression of both required considerable military 
activity on the part of the Portuguese. 

Thus even if these resistances did not succeed in combining such 
disparate elements as the 1896-7 risings — for rebel hopes of bring- 
ing in the Ngoni and the Shangaan were disappointed; nor display 
the same degree of coordination; nor put into the field so formid- 
able a fighting force; they were nevertheless important examples 
of African armed opposition to colonial rule. The Makombe rising 
of 1917 is particularly interesting because of its late date and 
because it represented by all odds the most vigorous African re- 
sponse to the pressures of the First World War. Their organizational 
pattern is a familiar one. Thus the fighting in 1900 to 1902 revol- 
ved around two political leaders whose traditional influence had 
been very extensive and who were able to revive it in the situation 
of colonial pressure. One of these was the titular Mutapa, reduced 
to a small chief in Portuguese Tavara, who now became the focus 
of resistance in the northern half of the crescent of revolt; sur- 
rounded by 300 men armed with modern rifles Mutapa Chioco 
Dambamutupe showed himself ‘really hostile’ to Portuguese and 
British alike, stimulating tax refusal, armed raids and other mani- 
festations of rejection of administrative authority in both British 

Lusaka, 1963; ‘Revolt in Portuguese East Africa; the Makombe rising of 19 17’, 
St Antonys Papers , No. 15, 1963, ed. K. Kirkwood. 


and Portuguese territory until his death in 1902 and the defeat of 
his followers in Coutinho’s campaign. The other was the Makombe 
paramount, ruler of the WaBarwe principality. The 1917 risings 
once again focused on exactly the same positions or rather on the 
claimants to them striving to revive their authority through rebel- 
lion. In both upheavals the evidence is strong that the supra-tribal 
religious authorities were deeply involved; the mediums of the 
Dzivaguru cult, which had existed before the Mutapa dynasty in 
Tavara country and which had then become closely associated 
with the Empire, joining with the mediums of the dead Mutapas 
and the senior mediums of WaBarwe to bring about what coordina- 
tion the risings possessed. Even in 1917 the fighting spirit of these 
rebel mediums was as fierce as ever; in the Zambesi valley the 
fight against Christianity still did not seem to be lost. We read of 
them taking command of impis; leading the attacks on Portuguese 
garrisons; planning to invade north-eastern Rhodesia to ‘liberate’ 
the headquarters of the Dzivaguru cult. The involvement of these 
religious leaders helped to give the rebels something of the same 
high morale that characterized the 1896-7 risings, and their influ- 
ence was felt deep into Rhodesia, drawing men across the border 
to fight. In both upheavals, but especially in the Makombe rising 
of 1917, there was apparent the ambiguity of attitude towards 
modernization and the European way of life. If the Kagubi med- 
ium was served by wagon leaders and carpenters, the leaders of 
the 1917 fighting included ex-waiters from the hotels of Salisbury, 
ex-policemen and other migrants to the towns of Rhodesia and 
South Africa. And though there were the same injunctions to throw 
aside European products, to kill pigs and so on, there was no doubt 
in the minds of the Makombe claimants that they wanted profit- 
able trading connections with Rhodesia and even the protection 
and advice of the Rhodesian administration once they had achieved 

Thus these characteristically Shona movements continued into 
the second decade of the twentieth century, exercising a powerful 
hold on the imaginations of the ex-rebels of central and western 
Mashonaland and being, in fact, linked with them in a variety of 
ways. Some of the most intransigent of the central Shona rebels 
of 1896-7 went after their defeat to assist the Makombe in his war 
with the Portuguese. The Inyanga scare of 1903-4 was caused by 
the repercussions of Coutinho’s defeat of the Makombe and by the 


flight of his successor to Rhodesian territory at the end of 1902. 
‘Makombe is coming soon, 5 said the Chaminuka medium in 1903. 
‘Why he is one of my children. He will not stay away. 5 The 
Native Department believed that this medium was telling the 
people of the Hartley district that ‘Makombi’s people in Portuguese 
territory are coming down and going to drive the Europeans 
across the Inyati river 5 . And most of all there was the connection 
created by the career of Mapondera. 1 

This Rozwi warrior was one of the last citizens of the old 
Shona world. In 1894, unwilling to endure the restrictions upon 
his power which resulted from the establishment of the Com- 
pany administration, he left his home in south Mazoe and 
moved out of the Company sphere eastwards. During 1896-7 
he was fighting for Makombe in Barwe against the Portuguese; 
returning after the risings to find his cattle seized and his relatives 
shot, he raided for revenge into south Mazoe early in 1900; 
driven from there he fell back into Korekore country where he 
allied himself to the chief spirit medium and ambushed a white 
patrol; driven from there he fell back into Rhodesian Tavara 
where he allied himself with Chioco Dambamutupe and marched 
on the Mount Darwin township in February 1901 with a force 
drawn from the whole area of Chioco’s influence, intending if he 
took Mount Darwin to send messengers south to call the central 
Shona once more into revolt; defeated outside Mount Darwin in 
pitched battle he fell back into Portuguese Tavara, continuing his 
alliance with Chioco and raiding over the border; then back again 
to Barwe to help Makombe fight against the Portuguese attack of 
1902; then after Makombe’s overthrow deeper into Portuguese 
territory. But the old Shona world, of which he made so free, was 
falling apart; there soon seemed to be nowhere to go to avoid the 
intrusive influence of the whites. ‘Kadungure was then running 
away from Rhodesia, 5 his grandson tells us. ‘He went on and one 
day he walked a whole day without covering an inch of ground. 
He was still in one place and when he thought he had sighted a 
place where to spend the night it was only to discover that it was 
the same place where he started. 5 So Kadungure Mapondera 
determined to run no further and in August 1903 returned to south 
Mazoe. On the night of August 30th 1903 police surrounded the 
hut where the old warrior was resting. ‘Kadungure was taken out,’ 
1 Morris to Taberer, 26 Nov. and 12 Dec. 1903, A 11/2/12/12. 



so his family myth runs, ‘whereupon he flew all over the place 
until he was tired and gave himself up.’ In the police report the 
capture of this old-style Shona hero and magician is reduced to 
administrative prose. ‘Surrounding the place as much as my party 
would permit, on entering I found Mapondera at the fire and 
arrested him. By his manner he seemed surprised. The following ap- 
peared to be his sixteen wives. He had a Martini-Henry rifle laying 
across his knee and four rounds of ammunition in an old stocking.’ 1 

Mapondera’s career ended with a seven years’ hard labour sen- 
tence which the old man did not survive. But even after his im- 
prisonment and death bolder spirits could still be tempted by the 
continuing disorder on the Portuguese frontier, which went on 
between the two great outbreaks of 1900-2 and 1917^0 try to emu- 
late his career in the now very much shrunken world of the Shona 

Against this background let us turn to the next question. Where 
did the risings of 1896-7 leave the societies which participated in 
them? And how could continuing opposition manifest itself within 
those societies? Let us turn first to the Shona. As we have already 
seen the rising ended in Mashonaland very differently from the 
negotiated peace of Matabeleland. Out of that negotiated peace 
most of the senior Ndebele indunas preserved their lives and even 
their leadership. Out of the unconditional surrender of the Shona 
many of the most important rebel paramounts lost their lives. The 
administration went carefully at first: ‘It has been found desirable,’ 
wrote the Chief Native Commissioner, Mashonaland, in Septem- 
ber 1897, c i n order to expedite the surrendering of the various 
chiefs, not to take too hasty proceedings against murderers, but as 
soon as the chief and his followers have been quietly located and 
the necessary evidence obtained, the guilty ones are arrested and 
lodged in gaol.’ In Matabeleland, meanwhile, the Chief Native 
Commissioner had given the opinion that the Ndebele understood 
from the terms of peace ‘that no action would be taken against any 
induna or headman who may have been instrumental in instigat- 
ing the rebellion or murders, but who were not actually on the 
spot when the murders were committed, though they ordered 
them’. Grey had urged that ‘if those rebels were prosecuted who 
were accessories or instigators it would be regarded by the natives 

1 Interview with Alexander Mapondera, 21 Jan. 1963; Goodyear to Com- 
mandant, Salisbury, 4 Sept. 1903, RC 3/3/8. 


as a breach of faith or of the arrangement arrived at and would 
seriously disturb the feeling of confidence which is rapidly growing 
up’. No such considerations applied in Mashonaland. In March 
1898 the Chief Native Commissioner was able to report that 
‘wherever it has been possible murders have been brought home to 
the paramount chiefs who in most cases give the orders for certain 
men to be killed. I have insisted on this being done wherever 
possible and it has resulted in seven paramount chiefs being arrested 
for murder, of whom five have been sentenced to death and two 
committed for trial.’ Paramounts Makoni, Mashiangombi, Soswe, 
Maromo and others had died during the rising; now paramounts 
Mashonganyika, Chiquaqua, Wata and others were hanged in its 
aftermath. The sons of other paramounts, who themselves could 
not be proved guilty of ordering the death of whites, were put on 
trial or hunted — this was the case with Kunzwi-Nyandoro and 
Mangwende. The whole Shona paramountcy system was shaken 
profoundly. 1 

The Matabeleland idea of salaried chiefs was also extended to 
Mashonaland but while in Matabeleland salaries and recognition 
were given to rebel leaders, who formed an actual majority of the 
district heads, in Mashonaland the great majority of the newly 
recognized chiefs were either men who had been loyal during the 
rising or successors to dead rebel paramounts chosen by the Native 
Department. ‘In the morning Umtaza came into town to be made 
chief’, recorded Lady Victoria Grey from Umtali on December 
15th, 1896. ‘Of course, he was chief already but to be made a 
responsible one with a monthly salary of £5. Father held a little 
indaba with them all squatting on the floor through an inter- 
preter and formally made him a chief.’ Other ‘responsible’ chiefs in 
that eastern area were Ndapfunya, now paramount chief Makoni at 
£5 a month, and Chipunza at £3 a month. And so it went in the 
other districts. Men like Kunzwi-Nyandoro, who survived their lead- 
ing part in the rising continued as chiefs but were denied subsidies. 2 

In Matabeleland men like Sikombo commanded the respect of 
the ex-rebel faction which felt that through the district induna 
system it had a voice in the new administrative order. In Mashona- 

1 Chief Native Commissioner’s reports for Mashonaland, 30 Sept. 1897 and 
31 Mar. 1898, Reports on the Administration of Rhodesia, i8g6-y } 1897; C.N.C. to 
Public Prosecutor, 29 Apr. 1897; Grey to Rosmead, 31 May 1897, LO 5/4/4. 

2 Lady Victoria Grey’s diary, entry for 15 Dec. 1896, GR 4/2/1. 


land the paramountcy system which emerged from the reorganiza- 
tion of 1897 an d 1898 could hardly be felt representative of the old 
rebel majority. Abundant evidence exists to show that the ‘loyal’ 
paramounts, rewarded for good service during the rising, or the 
new successors to dead rebel paramounts, and even paramounts 
like old Mangwende, whose commitment to the rising had always 
been half-hearted and whose decision to surrender was taken 
against the wish of a strong intransigent faction, experienced 
many challenges to their authority during the years after 1897. 
In Salisbury district, for instance, where many of the rebel para- 
mounts had been prosecuted for murder, the Assistant Native Com- 
missioner reported at the end of 1899 ‘the great want of control 
the Mashona chief has over his people. A paramount chief in 
Mashonaland does not get the respect or civility that an ordinary 
headman gets in Zululand, and I don’t altogether blame the 
Mashonas, because with the exception of Kunzi and Seki, the 
paramount chiefs in the Salisbury District are very weak and do 
not assert their authority.’ It was no accident that the two excep- 
tions were both survivors of the risings, Kunzwi-Nyandoro whose 
career we have followed already, and the Kagubi medium’s nom- 
inee for the Seki paramountcy. In Mrewa Native Commissioner 
Edwards found the chiefs reluctant or unable to capture and bring 
in the men wanted for murder: ‘to have done so would have been 
beyond their power. It must be remembered that most of the 
wanted natives were men of some standing in the tribes, and for 
the Chiefs and Headmen to have rounded them up would have 
been committing suicide.’ One of the fugitives was Mangwende’s 
son, Mchemwa, who had urged in 1897 that the whole tribe 
migrate into Barwe and throw in its lot with the Makombe, and 
who now offered a challenge to the leadership of his father. ‘From 
the time of the rebellion onwards’, writes Edwards, ‘Mangwende’s 
power over his people was on the wane. ... In October 1898 
Mangwende sent to complain that Mchemwa was usurping his 
power and causing trouble amongst his people.’ Mchemwa then 
took to the bush, moving between Barwe and his father’s area. 
It proved almost impossible to capture him. ‘Mashemwa during 
the rebellion’, wrote Edwards in December 1898, ‘was leader of 
the natives in this district. He had in fact far more power than his 
father Mangwende and it is not in human nature for them to turn 
round and now hunt him down. It may also be remembered that 


the Mashonas will not believe that we intend remaining in the 
country for good . . . and it would take a very strong minded native 
to give his chief’s son away when he believes that the whites are 
only here for a time.’ 1 

Mchemwa operated with a band of similarly disposed men, 
drawn from all over the area of the rising in central Mashonaland. 
Among them was Miripiri, son of Makoni Mutota Cirimaunga, 
who pursued with his brothers a blood feud against Ndapfunya. 
In September 1900 Miripiri raided Ndapfunya’s kraal but found 
the new paramount away at the Native Commissioner’s office. 
‘This man, Miripiri,’ wrote Native Commissioner Hook, ‘is the 
son of the old Makoni and the others are either relations or fol- 
lowers of the old chief who was killed in the rebellion. They have 
always been very bitter against the present chief as they consider he 
is not the lawful paramount and helped the white man to kill the 
old chief. They openly stated their reasons in the kraal and said 
they would have their revenge soon.’ The sons of the old Makoni, 
who continued their harassment of Ndapfunya until 1903, certain- 
ly enjoyed wide support in Maungwe. In November 1903 Native 
Commissioner Ross reported that there was certainly a feeling of 
unrest there; a number of headmen ‘hostile to the present Makoni’ 
had applied for passes to visit Kunzwi-Nyandoro in order that 
they might discuss with him instead of with their own chief what 
their reaction to the proposed tax increase should be. In 1917 the 
Native Commissioner admitted that Ndapfunya had very little 
authority over the tribe and had always been regarded by a major- 
ity as an usurper; he thought it possible that the Makombe rising 
of that year might stimulate attempts in Maungwe to overthrow 
the hated paramount. 2 

The Shona, then, faced a real leadership dilemma after the 
rising. They could not accept the majority of the paramounts as 
representing adequately their feelings, nor did they have any 
reason to suppose that the views expressed by these paramounts 
were taken seriously by the whites. Thus in February 1 904 Edwards 
reported from Mrewa that he had called all chiefs and headmen 

1 A.N.C., Salisbury, quarterly report, Dec. 1898, LO 5/5/1; Reminiscences 
of ‘ Wiri’ Edwards, ED 6/1 /i; Edwards, ‘The Wanoe: a short historical sketch’, 
NAD A, 1926; Edwards, quarterly report, Dec. 1898, NSI 1/1/1. 

2 A. N. C. Hook to C.N.C., 27 Sept. 1900, N 3/1/10; N.C. Ross to C.N.C., 
28 Nov. 1903, A n/2/12/11. 


together to inform them of the new tax increase. ‘Most of the chiefs 
took the information quietly. Mangwendi and a few of his head- 
men objected to the increase but their arguments were weak and 
childish. ... A firm hand with the chiefs and headmen is all that 
will be required.’ On the other hand there was no future in the 
kind of leadership represented by Miripiri or Mchemwa, both of 
whom were murdered in the course of their inter-tribal feuding, 
or in the kind of leadership represented by Mapondera. It would 
certainly be interesting to investigate how far there continued to 
exist over the decades a rival leadership in the paramountcies, 
tracing back its claims to positions taken up during the risings, and 
to ask, for example, how far such considerations combined with 
the normal rivalry of chiefly houses to produce the complex politics 
of the Mangwende reserve during the paramountcy of Mchemwa’s 
son fifty years later. Certainly in Maungwe the administration 
were careful not to allow a descendant of Makoni Mutota Ciri- 
maunga to attain the paramountcy for more than fifty years; the 
present chief is a son of his, given into the care of the whites at 
Gwindingwi just before his execution and brought up ever since 
in the service of the native administration. But though it is interest- 
ing to speculate whether this sort of opposition tradition continued 
to exist within the paramountcies and whether it ran into later 
manifestations of rural radicalism, it is clear that it had nothing to 
offer at a provincial or national level. 1 

The one man who emerged from the rising still in a position of 
authority and prestige was Kunzwi-Nyandoro, ‘the most self pos- 
sessed and strongest chief in the country’, as the Chief Native 
Commissioner described him in 1898. ‘Now that so many of the 
big chiefs who were hostile to us in 1896 are dead’, wrote Native 
Commissioner Ross in November 1903, ‘nearly the whole of the 
Mashona nation look to Kunzi for information and advice.’ It is 
worth while, then, completing his story. It is a story which shows 
how difficult it was for the Shona to move out of the context of 
their old traditions of opposition. Kunzwi-Nyandoro continued to 
oppose but still in association with the mediums; in the new 
circumstances of twentieth century Mashonaland his opposition 
merely brought him a series of humiliations. 2 

1 Edward’s report for February 1904, LO 5/5/25. 

2 G.N.C. to A.C.N.C., 3 June 1898, LO 5/4/9; Ross to C.N.C., 28 Nov. 
1903, A 11/2/12/11. 


Even in the immediate aftermath of the defeat and surrender 
Kunzwi remained ‘as proud as ever’. In June 1898 the Chief 
Native Commissioner held an indaba with the chiefs of the Salisbury 
district, emphasizing that ‘their great witch-doctors had been 
brought to justice’ and calling upon them to regard the rising as a 
thing of the past even though ‘it might be that some of them whose 
relations had been hanged for murders . . . felt aggrieved’. Kunzwi- 
Nyandoro, that faithful supporter of the mediums whose son was 
at that moment in hiding in the bush after his escape from Salisbury 
jail in February 1898, was singled out for special treatment. ‘I felt 
it my duty to inform Kunzi that I was sorry to see that he had not 
shown the submissive spirit evinced by other paramounts since the 
rebellion. I told him that his attitude must change or he would 
before long get himself into trouble.’ 1 

Kunzwi did, indeed, find himself in almost continual trouble. 
In 1900 he was showing a suspicious interest in the progress of the 
Boer War. In March one of his headmen told the administration 
of a meeting in Kunzwi’s kraal at which the prospects of a Boer 
success were discussed; the loyal headman objected that ‘if the 
Boers beat the British we will be killed’ and was silenced by his 
chief, who ‘turned on him and told him to hold his tongue; that 
he was a friend of the English and would die when the Boers came’. 
In April the same informant declared that the mediums and especi- 
ally Kunzwi’s medium, Ganyere, were spreading rumours that it 
was now the turn of the British to be beaten and telling the Shona 
to store their grain and be ready to rise. According to the African 
policemen in the area Kunzwi’s men were saying ‘that the English 
were cheating and that the Mrenga was going to rise a second 
time’, that ‘the English have taken our country; we don’t get 
sufficient food, the English won’t allow us to drive out the witches’. 
These reports were taken seriously. Kunzwi was watched and in 
May 1900 he was taken with other chiefs to see Carrington’s camp 
and the imperial troops then stationed near Salisbury; ‘they 
seemed to be very struck by the size of both men and horses’, and 
the rumours thereafter stopped. 2 

Kunzwi was watched through 1901 and 1902; his area was still 

1 C.N.C. to A.C.N.C., 3 June 1898, LO 5/4/9. 

2 Gilson to C.N.C., 6 Mar. 1900; Gilson to C.N.C. , 2 Apr. 1900; reports by 
Native Messengers, Mar. 1900; Acting C.N.C. to Chief Secretary, 4 Apr. 1900; 
Gilson to C.N.C., 1 June 1900, N 3/1/18. 


the source of rumours and he was endeavouring to bring together 
all his people from the districts in which they were scattered ‘and 
by so doing have greater power as a chief’. Then in 1903 admin- 
istrative suspicions flared up. In November of that year the appear- 
ance of a Chaminuka medium in the Hartley district was reported; 
the medium was said to be predicting that the whites would be 
driven out of Mashonaland. In December Native Commissioner 
Morris reported that Kunzwi-Nyandoro was ‘evidently the witch’s 
right hand as three of his sons are living at Gabaza’s kraal, also 
Sanga, a nephew of his. These natives are the witch’s bodyguard 
and messengers.’ Kunzwi himself attended meetings and was re- 
ported by spies to be ‘only too willing’ to join in a rising. The 
medium was detained and examined by the Chief Native Com- 
missioner who reported in January 1904 that ‘she had already 
given me information about Kunzi of such a nature that should it 
be correct Kunzi will have to be arrested and charged under the 
Peace Preservation Ordinance of 1901’. In fact the woman com- 
mitted suicide before any sworn statement could be taken, as a 
result, so the Chief Native Commissioner thought, ‘that I knew of 
Kunzi’s dealings with her’. 1 

In 1904 Kunzwi remained the centre of suspicion — ‘there is 
no doubt that the Chief Kunzwi is the ringleader and the origin- 
ator of any discontent that exists’. He had, or so the Administra- 
tor alleged, ‘for some time now’ been exchanging messages with 
Makombe and Mapondera in Portuguese East Africa; ‘I have 
strengthened all the police posts in the neighbourhood of this chief 
and if I can get any evidence at all that could be brought before the 
court I shall at once issue a warrant for his arrest.’ In May a strong 
police patrol was sent through his territory; it was reported to 
‘have had a wonderful effect. These patrols invariably make a 
good impression on the native mind.’ 2 

Kunzwi was not arrested but he was harassed in every way the 
administration could devise. His own desire to move with all his 
people to Charter district was refused; about 1907 he was moved 
out of the Kunzwi reserve when that land was sold to European 

1 Morris to C.N.G., 26 Nov. and 12 Dec. 1903; Ross to C.N.G., 28 Nov. 
1903; Edwards to G.N.C., 4 Dec. 1903; C.N.C. to Chief Secretary, 12 Jan. 
and 16 Feb. 1904, A 11/2/12/11. 

2 Administrator to Joint Manager, London, 31 Mar. 1904, A 11/2/12/12; 
Native Commissioner, Salisbury, report for May 1904, LO 5/5/27. 


farmers and placed under the authority of his hated rival, Samu- 
riwo, whose men had been sent as spies to the meetings at the 
kraal of the Chaminuka medium in 1903. As late as 1915 he was 
still hoping to escape from Samuriwo’s over-lordship and reports 
were coming in of the same repetitive kind; presents to the medi- 
ums; contacts with Mashiangombi’s kraal and with a suspected 
Mwari messenger from Jiri’s area in Ndanga; a sort of automatic 
running through, either on Kunzwi’s part or on the part of the 
Native Department’s informants, of the pattern which had produced 
the rising in 1896. The Native Commissioner, Marendellas, urged 
upon an administration which had somewhat melodramatic visions 
of a link between Kunzwi, the Mwari cult and the Germans, that 
they should allow him to wait and watch events. ‘Through the agency 
of Samrewo, the most influential chief in that district, and in whom 
he has absolute confidence, he is being kept informed of Nyandoro’s 
movements. Nyandoro has always been regarded as a man of some 
influence and wanting in loyalty to the Government, and for these 
reasons he was some years ago removed from Goromonzi district to 
Marendellas and placed under Samrewo.’ In May 1915, when two 
‘witch-doctors’, one from Charter and one from Gutu, were found 
at Kunzwi’s kraal the Native Commissioner cabled to the Superin- 
tendent of Natives, Salisbury, suggesting that he ‘come down and 
deal with Nyandoro on charge of trying cases and other offences’. 1 

And so Kunzwi-Nyandoro passes out of the records, persistently 
proud, persistently attempting to live the life of the Shona para- 
mount, admirable in this persistence but quite ineffective. He was 
not completely limited by the horizons of Mashonaland; he sought 
to keep informed of developments elsewhere in southern Africa 
and he was capable of implying a shrewd distinction between 
Company and imperial rule. ‘Paramount chief Nyandoro said they 
had heard more about the Chartered Company than Her Majesty 
the Queen,’ runs a report of a meeting with the Salisbury district 
chiefs in January 1901 after the news of Queen Victoria’s death, 
‘but all that they had been told about the latter was good.’ But he 
could not break out of the old traditions or find new allies; and 
like the paramount ‘nearly the whole of the Mashona nation’ 
which had looked ‘to him for information and advice’ also re- 
mained within the old Shona intellectual universe. 2 

1 Correspondence between N.C. Morris and the Superintendent of Natives, 
Salisbury, 1915, N 3/14/5. 2 N.C., Salisbury, report for Jan. 1901, LO 5/5/6. 


Thus for some twenty years after the risings the Shona made no 
significant move into new kinds of opposition. Nyasa clerks and 
mine-workers brought various kinds of independent Christianity 
into Mashonaland; educated Africans from South Africa formed 
associations to watch their own interests. But there was no contact 
between them and the mass of the rural Shona. Things were 
very different in Matabeleland where the Ndebele equivalents of 
Kunzwi-Nyandoro were able to move into more modern politics 
fairly rapidly and to assume leadership of movements of opposition 
which contained not only the old rebel factions but also the educa- 
ted young of the Ndebele nation, modernizing African migrants 
from the south, and African clergy of the so-called “Ethiopian” 
independent church movements which had entered Matabeleland 
from South Africa. There were, of course, many other differences 
between the Ndebele and the Shona situation, but some part of 
this contrast is explained by the different legacies of the risings in 
the two provinces. 

The first difference is already clear enough. The Ndebele emerged 
from the rising of 1896 with most of the chief rebel leaders in 
positions of influence, relatively well placed to act as spokesmen for 
future Ndebele discontent. Although, as we have seen, the powers 
of the salaried indunas were very limited and although indunas 
who quarrelled with the administration could be removed — as 
Somabulana was, for instance — there was nevertheless a big 
difference between the position of a man like Sikombo or 
Nyamanda and that of the hunted Mchemwa or Miripiri. This 
gave the erstwhile leaders of the rising a foothold in the new 

In the second place, while men like Kunzwi-Nyandoro were 
still tied to their belief in the spirit mediums and their loyalty to 
the great concepts of Chaminuka and Nehanda, concepts which 
it was difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the ideas of a 
new age, the Ndebele aristocracy had decisively broken with the 
Mwari cult during the last days of the rising. There are numerous 
references to the activities of Mwari messengers after 1897, of 
their carrying instructions for the boycott of European goods or 
advice to stand ready to exploit the friction between English and 
Afrikaaner, of their being received with honour by chiefs — but these 
references are all to the Shona areas of Matabeleland, such as 
Belingwe district, or to western Mashonaland. This continuing 


Shona respect for the cult was another aspect of the conservatism 
we have already described. But the aristocratic Ndebele alliance 
with it was over, and no insuperable problems arose to prevent an 
alliance with other forms of religious belief if such an alliance 
seemed profitable. 

The whole Shona political system had been committed to the 
rising and emerged from it shaken up and transformed, with no 
sort of focus for supra-tribal loyalty except still for the senior 
mediums. But the major institution of the Ndebele — the monarchy 
— had not really been involved in the 1896 rising; all plans for its 
restoration had fallen through; and different authorities had usur- 
ped during the risings its central position. The main claimants to 
the kingship, Njube and Nguboyena, had been in South Africa 
throughout the risings; their claims, if not advanced, had not been 
compromised by the events of 1896. Lord Grey, indeed, had plan- 
ned in June 1896 to bring Njube to Bulawayo in the hope that his 
return would induce the Ndebele to make peace. In the event he 
had decided that ‘the Mlimo, who is very clever, might tell people 
that he had brought Umjube up to Bulawayo’ and had not gone 
through with the scheme. But it was not unreasonable to hope that 
once the Mlimo’s power was broken the administration could be 
persuaded to complete their ‘restoration’ of Lobengulas’s system by 
restoring the kingship also. 1 

From the beginning, therefore, the rebel faction had a clear 
target for renewed political action. It is clear that it was pre- 
eminently the rebel faction who were pushing for the restoration 
of the kingship, even though loyalists also joined in the demand 
for ‘one head, not half a dozen heads’ at the third indaba. In 1904 
Njube’s support was described as coming from ‘those who rebelled 
in 1896 . . . while the “loyal” portion of the nation does not desire 
his return’. In December 1898 the first signs of disillusionment 
with the settlement was accompanied by a demand for Njube’s 
return. ‘There has been some little trouble with the natives in the 
Matoppos’, wrote Rhodes’ farm manager in December 1898, ‘due 
to the stupidness of 2 native commissioners, Stewart and Moodie. 
The indunas want your boy Jube back — you ought to lose him’. 
In 1900, when Njube did in fact visit Bulawayo, those most eager 
to visit him were men like old Umlugulu, who hastened into Bula- 

1 Secretary, Cape Town, to Secretary, London, 17 and 24 June 1896, 
LO 5/2/49. 


wayo at Njube’s summons without notifying or seeking the per- 
mission of the Matabeleland Native Department. 1 

And yet at the same time as being the obvious cause for the 
ex- rebels to support the restoration of either Njube or Nguboyena 
was also the cause of the young, educated and forward looking men. 
Njube and Nguboyena were themselves the most highly educated 
and westernized of all Ndebele at that time. Njube was a student 
at the premier South African secondary school for Africans. Ngubo- 
yena was even more gifted and in 1908 began to prepare for the 
English bar. They had connections with the political elite of South 
Africa — the lawyers, the independent church leaders. In South 
Africa the historic kingships and paramountcies were being made 
the focus of the new politics at this time; their treaties with the 
European powers being made the object of a legal offensive. A 
restored Ndebele kingship held out the same possibilities. In this 
way Umlugulu and the rest found themselves as allies of the 
Ndebele modernizers. In 1905, for instance, a collection was held 
for Njube in Bulawayo organized by ‘Natives of known good 
character’, the educated town dwellers. In 1908 Nguboyena’s visit 
to Bulawayo was welcomed by the senior indunas but also by this 
other element. ‘Nguboyena does undoubtedly receive sympathy 
from the educated natives (Matabele and others) in Bulawayo,’ 
wrote the Chief Native Commissioner, ‘and it is from this direction 
that he is likely to obtain support in the event of his wishing to 
give trouble.’ And Nguboyena proceeded to adopt a line which was 
likely to unite both elements in his support. ‘Nguboyena is an ex- 
tremely intelligent youth. He is at present studying the conditions 
of native life in this country, and has asked for varied information 
regarding the Native Reserves, the terms on which the natives 
reside thereon and has applied for a map showing the Reserves.’ 2 

Neither Njube, who died in 1910, nor Nguboyena who suffered 
a nervous breakdown in the same year survived to work out fully 
the implications of this new sort of politics. Nevertheless their 
candidature for the kingship was an important episode in Ndebele 
political history. It enabled the rebel faction to move into a new 
sort of political activity and into cooperation with new allies. The 

1 McDonald to Rhodes, 19 Dec. 1898, Rhodes House, Mss. Afr. s. 228, 
C. 14; A.C. Mlugulu, report for Aug. 1900, LO 5/7/4. 

2 C.N.C. to Secretary, Administrator, 9 and 16 Sept, and 10 Nov. 1908, 
A 1 1/2/1 1/8. 


prestige of the two sons of Lobengula and the impression made by 
their relative mastery of the white man’s world was one of the 
factors in the readiness of the Ndebele indunas to send their children 
to school, as Nyamanda, for instance, sent his son to an Ethiopian 
church school in South Africa; this Ndebele approach to educa- 
tion was often contrasted by the Native Department with the lack 
of modern preparation enjoyed by the possible successors to the 
Shona paramountcies. And the fact that the old leaders of the 
rising were in positions within the new administrative system and 
at the same time able to lend their support to the kingship move- 
ment meant that the Ndebele imagination did not remain obsessed 
with thoughts of another rising, even though the tradition of 
violent resistance was shown to be alive in the wider Nguni world 
by the Zulu rising of 1906. Although there were fugitive murderers 
in Matabeleland there was no parallel there to the challenges 
offered by Mchemwa and Miripiri to the authority of Mangwende 
and Ndapfunya. 

Of course this contrast should not be pushed too far, nor should 
it be suggested that there was in the first decade of the twentieth 
century any unbridgeable gulf between armed resistance and ‘new’ 
forms of opposition. If the Shona peoples were connected by history 
and sentiment to the continuing resistances in Portuguese East 
Africa, the Ndebele were connected in the same way with the 
story of the Zulu response to white pressure. On the one hand this 
connection with the Zulu meant that the Ndebele came into con- 
tact with the Zulu intellectuals and church leaders who were 
among the pioneers of modern African politics in South Africa; 
on the other hand it meant that the Ndebele were touched by the 
news of the Zulu rising of 1 906, a resistance to pressure that com- 
bined old and new elements. There was during this period a com- 
plex interaction between Ndebele and Zulu political history — 
the treatment of the Ndebele in 1893 and 1896 helping to harden 
the attitude of Zulu intellectuals towards the whites, experience of 
Zulu churches helping Ndebele migrants to develop new forms of 
protest, and so on. Certainly at the time whites in Rhodesia did 
not imagine that further armed opposition by the Ndebele was out 
of the question and when the Ndebele did not follow the Zulu 
example in 1906 it was explained in terms of the deliberately 
fostered divisions within the Ndebele nation rather than in terms 
of an Ndebele transition to new political forms. 


In fact the memory of the rising and the whole tradition of 
Nguni resistance had not ceased to be important in Ndebele politics. 
But as time went on it began to be distanced and made use of in 
a way that could not at that period happen in Mashonaland. This 
comes out very clearly in the later career of Nyamanda, Loben- 
gula’s eldest son, whose involvement in the rising we have already 
seen. Nyamanda went through a characteristic progress; given a 
place in the new establishment as a salaried district head he was 
nevertheless increasingly disillusioned by the fruits of the accomo- 
dation with Rhodes. Given both the position and the dissatisfaction, 
and enjoying the prestige of his showing in 1896, he was able to 
assume leadership of radical Ndebele politics after the death of 
Njube and the withdrawal of Nguboyena. 

It was the breach of what he, together with the other indunas , 
regarded as Rhodes’ undertakings over land which precipitated 
Nyamanda into political activity. After the risings he had been 
re-settled in the Insiza area but had been forced to move when the 
owner began to develop the land; he then settled in the Bubi area 
but was told ‘to remove by the Company owning the land’. Turn- 
ing to the idea of offering to purchase land he was given no en- 
couragement in this by the Company administration which con- 
sistently answered his complaints by telling him that he could 
choose an area to settle in one of the Reserves. ‘Being landless and 
at the mercy of any purchaser of land’, complained Nyamanda, 
‘was a difficult and bitter pill for a man of his standing to swallow 
and ... he felt that the Government had no sympathy or regard 
for his difficulties or troubles.’ In this way the Company reaped 
the results of its failure to follow through Grey’s land reform 
policy. 1 

The issue of land was one on which it was easy to rally the 
radical Ndebele faction. ‘The well-founded and growing discon- 
tent by an important section of the community cannot be ignored,’ 
wrote the Superintendent of Natives, Bulawayo. ‘It can be fore- 
seen that the land difficulty becomes more acute Nyamanda’s 
policy of constantly harping upon it is certain to augment his 
following with the effect of consolidating native opinion in an 
undesirable manner.’ And Nyamanda moved from expressions of 
personal grievance to a demand on the behalf of the Ndebele as a 
whole. ‘All we want’, he insisted, ‘is for the Government to say, 
1 N.G. Inyati, to S/N/Byo., 16 Mar. 1920, A 3/18/18/6. 


“This is a tract of land for Lobengula’s people.” 5 He demanded a 
great block of Matabeleland as a national home— ‘I know that 
some of the land within these boundaries is already occupied,’ he 
told the Chief Native Commissioner in 1920. ‘It is for Your Honour 
to decide how I am to acquire it. We will find the money.’ 

Once again the administration believed that support for Nya- 
manda came from the ex-rebel factions among the Ndebele. Nya- 
manda’s appeal to them was couched in terms harking back to 
the days of 1893 and 1896. ‘I write